“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.“ Philippians 1:6
I once called myself a Christian. I thought I was a child of God among the children of Satan. I was convinced of the absolute truth of the Bible and no amount of human reason could convince me otherwise. I believed the Holy Spirit lived within me, allowing me to be a reflection of Jesus and his love. But, when I finally looked into that reflection, I could not stand what I saw.
Every day, for more than a year, I sat in the same corner of the cafe at my university for lunch – always facing outward so no one was behind me. Everyone there brought up such an unbearably anger within me – to the point that my muscles would tense into painful spasms and my vision would blur white around the edges. These people never did anything to me, except give the impression of having lived normal lives. My grades began to fall. All I could think about was my past. Memories I had long blacked out began to resurface. I poured over every word in the Bible and every popular Christian belief that I could not reconcile with my own sense of morality. I could not shake the feeling that my entire life had been dedicate to a lie. I was de-converting.
Christianity sets for its followers impossible standards – so that its people are broken and desperate for the savior it provides. When a Christian truly attempts to desperately live up to those impossible standards, he finds only failure and the feeling that he can never be good enough. But, despite the mental anguish, a believer often remains in the faith because existence in the provided alternative is unimaginable. This is the doctrine of Christianity. This is the life I left behind.
My de-conversion was not voluntary. I did not go looking to lose my faith. I fought my de-conversion as hard as I could. I had a family, a wife and child. My wife was a Christian. I had brought her to Jesus myself and I didn’t want to lose her by rejecting the very faith that she accepted from me when we were young. But a balloon expanding with air will eventually burst. This is my story. A story of the unyielding grip that indoctrination held on me.
Childhood Indoctrination: The Baptist Church and Calvinism
“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.“ Revelation 20:15
Indoctrination is defined as the act of programming a doctrine, principle, or ideology: such as religious belief. It is not presented as something you must think about; it is presented as something you must believe. In the case of religion, one’s belief is rewarded by entrance into a heavenly paradise; but failure to believe results in the eternal suffering of the soul in a lake of fire. Religious indoctrination is often forced on a child at the critical age during which the way the child will think, feel, and act for his or her entire life develops. When a child is indoctrinated into a religion, nothing else exists for that child. The mere thought that others can even hold to an alternative faith or belief is completely baffling. This was Christianity for me.
My faith started at an age much too young to fully understand. Under the desk in the office is where my older brother told me of a place called hell. Tears ran down my face and I begged him for an alternative. Then he told me of heaven and how Jesus, because he was crucified, could save me from this place. This is the first time I accepted Jesus as my savior and my earliest memory.
“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles.“ Matthew 7:16
As a toddler, I attended a Baptist church with my mother and brothers. The church was filled mostly by the elderly and fundamental homeschooling families with older children. The culture here was one of strict rules and mistrust of modern medicine and science. Morality was the center of our being and every move one made was judged harshly. We believed that it would be observations of our morality, unique in the world, which would bring lost souls to salvation. We were constantly tempted by Satan to sin against God and any momentary weakness could be observed by one of these souls who might then choose to reject God because of our weakness. That person would be sent to hell and it would be our fault. Although, the eventual version of Christianity that I held to was the result of the belief systems of multiple denominations, this is the world I was originally indoctrinated into.
”I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law and a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.“ Matthew 10:35-36
My father did not attend church with us. He had de-converted over a verbal argument with a pastor long before I was born. Afraid that my father would turn her children against God, my mother always kept us at arm’s length from him – making sure we knew that he was not a Christian like we were. The tension between my parents was always high and my brothers and I could sense it. We spent most of our time hiding upstairs in in our separate bedrooms trying to distance ourselves from this tension as much as possible.
The sight of my parent’s broken marriage could be escaped, but the sound could not. Almost nightly the screaming would echo up the stairwell as my mother tried to force her beliefs and sense of morality on my father. I would often lay awake at night crying and praying to God that they would get a divorce so that the screaming would stop; but divorce was against my mother’s religion.
When my parents weren’t fighting, my father escaped into the cyber world of strategy gaming and conspiracy theory forums. While doing so, he demanded quiet. A single noise traveling down the stairs would set him stomping up to ensure the noise did not continue. He never touched us, but, I can still remember being terrified of him to the point that I could not breathe when he came up those stair.
After years at this small Baptist church, my mother began to realize that my brothers and I were the only young people in attendance. As homeschoolers, our only contact with other people was through church and, as a result, we had no friends. So, we began attending a small mission church in the next town that leaned towards Calvinism.
Unlike our previous church, worship held a joyful tone and the sermons were passionate. There, at the age of eight, I made my first friend. He was the pastor’s son. He was five years older than me and I saw him as a wise man that I could look up to. He was from the other end of the country and had seen parts of the world I could only dream of. We skied, we biked, and we went on camping trips, talked about life, hobbies, and girls. I also began attending a very small private Christian school in an Evangelical church during this time and came to depend on him for social advice.
After about a year, the mission began losing attendance; so the pastor and his family decided to return to their home church in Florida. A week before their move, I went on one last camping trip with my friend before he had to move thousands of miles away. There, alone in a tent, my only friend, the pastor’s son, sexually molested me. That was not the first time I was molested by an older Christian whom I looked up to - so, I thought it was normal. Images of the previous instance are much more vividly burned into my mind. I do not remember how the first came too happened, but I remember who the person was and what he asked of me. These two people told me to never tell anyone - so, I never did.
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.“ Revelation 3:15-16
Some Christians come to the faith by using God to overcome a hardship in their life that they believe to be too difficult to overcome on their own. Others come in reaction to an extreme emotional response to the message of salvation. But when the hardship is overcome and the emotion fades, many of these Christians often return to their secular lifestyles and push God to the back of their minds. This was never an option for me.
My indoctrination had caused my mind to be engulfed in a sort of monothematic delusion. A monothematic delusion is a delusional state that concerns only one particular topic. Victims often do not suffer from any obvious intellectual deficiency nor do they have any other symptoms. For my entire life, everyday, from morning to night, I was surrounded by Jesus. Morning devotionals were followed by seven hours of Christian themed home school curriculum. The walls in our home were covered in Christian themed posters and, every evening, I took part in a second devotional. All of which, plunged me deeper and deeper into this delusion that almost nothing could pull me out of.
Somatoparaphrenia, a type of monothematic delusion, is a delusion where one denies ownership of a limb or an entire side of one’s body. As a Christian, I had extended this denial of ownership to my entire being. I was clay in the hands of the Maker who could shape me as He pleased. I believed that life was a test of hardships and, as long as I stayed faithful, God would never put me through more than I could handle. It was this belief, along with the fear of hellfire and the pain it might cause others, that kept me from ending my life the many times I considered doing so as a Christian. In this sense, the same delusion that was destroying me also saved me. But it trapped me in a state mind that kept me from healing or seeking help – even though I sometimes realized there was something wrong. And, ultimately, against all reason and observations of reality, it caused me to form for myself a sort of personal cult that no one else was a part of based on the doctrine of Christianity.
When the Calvinist mission church disbanded, we returned to the Baptist church we had previously attended; but I continued to attend private school in an Evangelical church. I was in for grade and loved school. I loved the friends I made. Nothing was more important to me. I was the class clown and came to be listed in the yearbook as the best friend of every boy in the class. But this period of my life was short lived. Half way through my fifth grade year, my mother had an argument with the class room teacher. She pulled me out at the end of the month and I began homeschooling again. I was devastated. At such a young age, when your social life is dictated by your parents, it became difficult to keep in touch with the friends I had made. I retained only one of those friends.
By this time, my older brother had moved out of the house. I was now the oldest boy in the house, so my mother began to confide in. The continuing arguments between my parents were now almost always followed by my mother furiously stomping up the stairs. She would come to my room and angrily complain for hours about how terrible she thought her life was. She would often curse God while she talked to me - saying that God was in heaven laughing at her and that she was like an ant and God a mean kid with a magnifying glass. I hated when she said those things. I would frequently have mental breakdowns while she complained and my muscles would tense to the point of sharp pain in my neck and shoulders – a coping mechanism known as somatization. I tried my hardest to hide my pain because I thought it was my responsibility to listen my mother.
I often cried myself to sleep afterwards, escaping into the headphones of the Walkman radio that I hid between my mattresses. I was not allowed to listen to music, whether it was secular or Christian. Satan was the angel of music before his fall from heaven and, therefore, music was his preferred method of influencing people. But music was my only comfort. My mother eventually found the Walkman and took it away - claiming that I wanted to listen to this music because I was possessed by demons. The pastor of our current church arrived at our door the next day and they preformed an exorcism on me and on my bedroom.
“And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues.“ Mark 16:17
During my sixth grade year we switched churches once again – this time, to a small Pentecostal church. The passion of the people at this church was sometimes over whelming to me. They had such an outward desperation for Jesus that I had never witnessed before. After all the time spent in the Baptist church, singing stiff, slow moving hymnals to a single organ, I had become a very reserved in worship. I often become sick to my stomach when trying display such outward emotion myself. My inability to raise my hands, dance, and cry while worshiping, like everyone around me, made me angry at myself. I thought I did not have enough faith or I was subconsciously ashamed of my relationship with Jesus Christ. But I often cried out in desperation and worship for Jesus alone at night – trying to overcome this barrier.
I also had never felt compelled to speak in tongues and I did not have visions like many members of the congregation did. At this church, we believed that interpretation of tongues and personal visions were God’s method of communication to the most faithful among us. One vision that I remember was had by the pastor’s daughter. She claimed that she saw a beast hovering above the city. This beast had thousands of tentacles with which he controlled people and daily events in the city. The name of our city was an old Native American word that meant ”place of evil” - so we believed her.
When I was fifteen, my youth group at this church attended a small Pentecostal Christian youth summer camp. Worship at this camp was the most emotional experience of my life. As the music played, everyone raised their hands high in the air without exception. Everyone would stand on the highest tips of their toes, sobbing until red in the face, bouncing on their knees, springing their bodies inches from the ground. It was as if Jesus was hovering above them, just out of reach, and all it would take is one single touch of His garments by the very tips of their fingers and they would be whole – but they were too exhausted to jump high enough to reach Him. Everyone worshiped this way - except for me. I was petrified of worshipping in this environment.
After some time, a camp leader noticed that I did not worship like the rest of the youth and began pressuring me to do as they did – as if my outer state was a reflection of my inner state. Afraid of being judged, I gave in easily. That is when a song with lyrics about jumping for Jesus began. We were all encouraged to jump and spin in circles. After a few minutes of this, I came down hard on my ankle. I could no longer stand so, I sat down. A camp leader noticed and approached me. He asked me what was wrong and I told him that I think I had sprained my ankle. He laid hands on me and prayed for healing. I felt a warm sensation enter my leg. It moved down past my ankle and seemed to leave through my toes. The pain was gone. I looked up and quietly announced that I was just healed. Everyone cheered and congratulated me for having such faith. But, I did not feel the joy that should be felt in a moment like this. Instead, I felt only confusion.
I did not feel in the least like I was touched by the divine hand of a god. I wondered if I had even hurt my ankle at all. I wondered if I fabricate the pain in my mind because I did not want to jump – and then I fabricate the healing. I knew that there should be more to a healing than this empty feeling that it seemed to leave me with. As the week-long camp came to an end, people congratulated me on my faith once again as I sat in the big blue youth group van window looking down towards them. They spoke of the encouragement they received from witnessing the strength of my faith and my healing. I did not know what to say- so I just thanked them for their words. I didn’t want to spread false claims of healing, so I filed the event to the back of my mind and never spoke of it again.
Upon returning home, I began to become fed up with my life of homeschooling and being witness to my parent’s broken marriage. After constantly begging my mother to allow me to return to school, she made me a deal. The local high school had a program that allowed homeschoolers to send their children to two hours of classes that might not otherwise be available through home school curriculum. I signed up for this program and my mother, sure that I would not enjoy the experience, agreed that, if I still wanted to attend full time public school at the end of that academic year, I would be allowed.
At the same time, I began a courtship with one of the girls at church and we became very close. We often heard from the adults that she and I would likely be married someday. We spent the majority of our free time with each other. I arrived at school early every morning that entire year to spend time with her and people I had met from around my neighborhood. My house had become the neighborhood hangout and my front yard was filled with kids skateboarding and just hanging out every day.
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” II Corinthians 6:14
The year was coming to an end and I told my mother I wanted to attend school full time the following year. She became furious. She determined that it was because of this girl and the unbelieving kids from the neighborhood. She told me that I could not see any of them anymore and we once again switched churches. I did not want to fight my mother, but I did not want to give up my friends. I wanted to be a good Christian and I wanted my mother to be proud of my spirituality – so I decided to give up my friends. But I became very distressed. I started failing exams for the first time in my life. My mother saw my failing grades and began to accuse me of being on drugs. That is when something snapped in my mind. I began to have difficulty holding onto basic thoughts, I began to forget basic vocabulary while speaking, and my short term memory began to fail – especially under stressful conditions. This is a condition known as dissociation amnesia.
However, I did not have plans to stop seeing this girl with whom I had become so close. We were both Christians and I did not believe I could be influence negatively by our relationship. When I was with her, I did not feel as lonely and isolated as I had come to feel everywhere else. But, for over a month, she did not answer her phone when I called or come to her door when I knocked. Eventually, I received a package from her. It contained every gift I had ever given to her. A letter was also inside. It read that she believed I had betrayed her. She thought it was my decision to cut off our friendship. She told me that she was glad our friendship was over and accused me of corrupting her Christian walk. I did not know what she meant.
I tried to find her and explain what really happened – that my mother thought us unequally yoked and it was her, not I, that was trying to separate us. But rumors about our breakup were spreading faster than I could reach her. I heard a new lie about us almost every day. She accused me of breaking into her email and sending all her friends hate mail – which I did not do. At the beginning of the next school year, I was homeschooled full time again. Alone in the solitude that homeschooling had become for me, I retreated within myself. I became a stranger to everyone I knew and no one would hear from me for over a year.
“But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” Romans 14:23
The doctrine of sin effectively maintains many Christians in a cycle of guilt and self denial that they cannot escape. The Bible teaches that, whether a person is a believer or an unbeliever, everyone on this planet is a slave to sin. The Bible also teaches that a lack of faith results in sin – and sin results in evil and destruction in this world. In other words, evil exists in the world because of you. Destruction exists in the world because of your sin. People die of famine, disease, and natural disasters because your faith is not strong enough to avoid breaking God’s law. When this is the belief that you hold so closely, there is no choice but to drown in an unending sea of guilt – because, everything that causes sorrow and loneliness in this world, is your fault.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9
But there is a dangerous loophole to this doctrine: forgiveness is available to anyone who merely asks for it. A sort of “get out of jail free” card that can be played – no matter the enormity of the sin that may have been committed. So you ask for personal forgiveness with little concern for those whom your sin may have affected and you pray for strength to deny your own thoughts and biological functions so that you may not sin again. With effort, this denial of self can often be accomplished and the guilt may even subside – but it is always only temporary because you are fighting who and what you are as a human being. All of this traps a believer in a continuing swell of rising and falling periods of guilt and self denial. This emotional roller coaster comes at a psychological cost that Christianity refuses to acknowledge and often even considers beneficial to the individual’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ – because the pain that this cycle causes is Jesus himself forming and shaping you into a person closer to His likeness. And to be more Like Jesus is the ultimate goal of a Christian.
Battered Person Syndrome is defined as the medical and psychological condition of a person who has suffered persistent emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from another person. When Battered Person Syndrome manifests as PTSD, it consists of the symptoms: (a) re-experiencing the battering as if it were recurring even when it is not, (b) attempts to avoid the psychological impact of battering by avoiding activities, people, and emotions, (c) experience of being constantly tense and the need to maintain an increased awareness of the surrounding environment, (d) disrupted interpersonal relationships, (e) body image distortion and (f) sexuality and intimacy issues. Victims of Batters Persons Syndrome often believe that the abuse is his or her fault and the abuser is somehow omnipresent and omniscient. This is often the effect that Christianity has on many of its followers and the effect it had on me.
“The righteous chooses his friends carefully: but the way of the wicked leads them astray.“ Proverbs 12:26
We began attending a large Evangelical church. I knew many of the youth at this church from the Christian school I attended when I was younger; but I had developed a social anxiety I did not have before. I don’t know if I was afraid that if I made friends again I would lose them again or if I had just become used to a lack of social interaction. But it did not really matter. Most of the youth’s parents would not allow me to be friends with their children because my father was not a Christian. A fact made painfully obvious by his absence from our pew each Sunday morning. The thought was if we could not convert our father to Christianity, then there was something wrong with our own Christian walk. I was told this straight to my face on multiple occasions. No one invited me to events that took place outside of church or youth group. I often saw everyone at the sledding hill or the ice cream shop, but no one ever called me to ask if I wanted to join and that hurt me in ways I would not admit to myself.
However, there was one who did accept me. He was the pastor’s son. We were once friends at the Christian grade school we attended and we managed to rekindle that friendship. Together, we became the youth group video production team. He as the camera man and I as the actor. We filmed many videos for the youth group and this gave me purpose. Eventually, he invited me to teach sixth grade Sunday school with him. I found that I had a talent for Biblical teaching. I believed that the Bible meant what it said and, therefore, needed no interpretation beyond that. I began giving long talks in youth Bible study about the meanings of Bible verses. This sometimes brought out sarcastic remarks towards me from the other youth. But my clear and direct approach to the Bible impressed my youth pastor and he suggested I get further training in seminary. We toured Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and I loved it. I began fabricating plans in my mind to become a missionary to third world countries.
After a fund raiser for the church, the pastor’s son, my only Christian friend at the time, informed me that he and his family were moving to Texas. The church elders asked his father to resign as head of the church. They believed him to be too liberal and wanted the church to travel more in the direction of fundamentalism. I was devastated. He was the only Christian that accepted me and he was being removed from the church by the Christians that did not accept me. Soon after, I was asked to resign from my position as Sunday school teacher and replaced. When the kids asked me why I was no longer their teacher, I couldn’t answer them. I did not want to cause these kids doubt by making the church look bad.
“But Peter and the apostles answered and said, we must obey God rather than men.“ Acts 5:29
I became lonely and after constant begging, my mother once again agreed to let me attend public school. I attended full time my senior year. I consider this the best year of my life. I made many friends; but, I was still afraid to let them get close. Although, I had never felt as accepted in my life as I had been among these unbelievers, my indoctrination still held me tightly. I thought their influence was a danger to my Christianity and my eternal soul. I was often invited to parties and small get-to-gathers but I would never attend them. I wanted nothing more than to let these people in. I wanted to drink and talk about life with them more than anything I had ever wanted before. I just wanted to be normal.
But I wasn’t normal; I was a child of God. These desires were merely a temptation from Satan and I was a pillar of Christian morality. I knew that people must look up to my morality, even though no one ever told me this. I thought that if I faltered even once, someone who looked up to me would be devastated. That person, who may be considering accepting Jesus, might decide the teachings of the Bible are a lie. That person would be sent to hell and I would be responsible. But I soon found this not to be true.
Halfway through the year, one of the kids in my neighborhood, whom I had reconnected with that year in public school, committed suicide. I still do not know why. I thought myself a failure. I could not understand how he could not see hope in the Jesus that I strived so hard to be like. I attended his open casket funeral, but I trivialized the experience and repressed any emotional response. Losing people I cared about had become a normal occurrence. So, instead of mourning, I sunk even deeper into Christianity. I became more devout, I become stricter, and I began to verbally evangelize for the first time in my life. Christianity had emotionally shut me down and I coped with it by adopting even more fundamental views of the same doctrine – avoiding the reality of abuse by becoming more abused.
It was around this time, I befriended a girl at school. She showed an interest in Christianity so I invited her to church. I became closer to her than I had ever been to anyone else. I took her to a presentation by Kent Hovind at a local church. He talked about faith and science - connecting the two in a way that never gave my faith more validity. On the drive home, she told me of how interesting she found the presentation. The talk had given me a confidence in evangelizing I had never experienced before. I pulled the vehicle over and told her all the reason that I believed the Bible to be truth over any other religion in the world. I told her how we are born into sin, separated from God; but He sent his son to die so we could be with Him in heaven. Soon after, she accepted Jesus and I began a romantic relationship with her. She began attending church with my family every Sunday and, eventually, I asked her to marry me.
Doubt: True Christians
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father . . . Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29, 31
As a Christian, I was taught that God desired a personal relationship with each of His individual children – including me. God spoke to me in that still, small voice in the back of my mind – giving me prophetic words and protecting me from danger. He even knew the exact number of hairs on my head. Nothing was more valuable to my God than this relationship. It was this arrogant idea that led to me to the path of doubt – but the log in my eye was too big and it was not my own arrogance that I first noticed. But it sometimes takes noticing the faults in other people to notice the same faults in yourself.
It was during a prayer concert, that I noticed something strange that I had not noticed before. I found myself being moved by the praise music. It was a loud musical production accompanied by loud passionate prayers shouted from behind microphones on a stage. An hour in, the praise leader announced that he could feel the spirit of God moving through the room. People raised their hands and scattered shouts of amen swept across the congregation. My euphoria immediately dissipated, my heart sank, and, for the first time, I experienced a moment of clarity. I suddenly began to wonder if this was truly the spirit of God or merely an emotional reaction to the music.
That is when a church elder stepped up to the pulpit. He and his wife were both medical doctors. He began talking about the importance of being thankful. I remember what he said as vividly as if it had happened today. He told a story of how he was merging onto the highway on his way to work when he realized that this was the tenth time in a row he had done so and no other cars were in his way. He then expressed his thankfulness to God for the small things in life and urged the congregation that we all should do the same. People shook their heads in agreement all over the sanctuary and loud cheers could be heard from across the room. My jaw dropped. Why would God care about anyone merging onto the highway in their expensive car while driving to their high paying job when there are children all over the world starving to death?
It was this experience that eventually allowed me to open my eyes and see past the cover that Christianity held over my mind. I could not believe that this was the attitude of a true Christian. A few months later, that man’s son attempted suicide. I was never told why. I became confused. The Holy Spirit could not be in people like this. I began to believe I was surrounded by Christians who were not true. I remembered the vision of the beast that the pastor’s daughter shared at my previous church and decided that I needed to get out of this town. I needed to find a community of Christians that truly held the Holy Spirit.
“The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” Psalms 24:1
A few years later, I got married. Our wedding was not our own. The ceremony was focused completely on God. We used it as an opportunity for the church youth pastor to present the salvation message to everyone attending. We included prayer and praise songs anywhere we could. After the wedding, my mother promised to us a rental house - but first, she wanted to finish fixing it up. She said it would take only a month. We moved into my parents’ house while we waited. This was the beginning of the end of my faith.
While we lived there, every word my wife said was harshly judged by my mother. Every morning I was confronted about something my wife said that was taken out of context. My wife was constantly ridiculed and her faith questioned. Adaptation to a harmful environment is not difficult. Adaptation sometimes can be so extreme, that a person does not even realize a problem even exists – until the person perceives that environment affecting somebody else. My mother’s religion was no longer just negatively affecting me, but now my wife as well.
I was extremely disappointed in my mother. This was not how someone who held the Holy Spirit was supposed to behave. My wife was raised in a nonreligious family and my mother was the only example of a Godly woman that she had – an example she no longer could look up to. This event did not cause me to doubt Christianity. I still strongly believe in the existence of a God. However, I stopped praying, I stopped reading my Bible, and I began to push my Christian walk to the back of my mind.
“Commit thy works unto Jehovah, and thy purposes shall be established.“ Proverbs 16:3
I took a management position at work and my wife and I had a child. I lost interest in my previous plans to attend seminary. After three years of contemplation, I began to gain an interest in biology and finally moved away from my hometown to pursue a degree in the subject. Here, in this new town, I prayed the last prayer I would ever utter to God. What I prayed was to be shown a community of true Christians so that I might know how to serve God as a true Christian would serve God. Soon after, I received an interview at a local greenhouse run by a nonprofit organization. The organization’s goal was to provide respite and employment opportunities for people with mental disabilities. The organization wanted to begin raising fish in the greenhouse to be incorporated in a method of permaculture where the waste water from fish is utilized to fertilize a plant crop and re-circulated. It was the study of the biology of this method that brought me to the university in this town and I had applied to this organization completely unaware of their plans.
The greenhouse manager decided to hire me before she even met me due to my knowledge in the operation of this method and my previous volunteer work at churches. We hit it off immediately. We were both Christians and even attended the same church in town. It was as if God Himself had orchestrated events and interests in my life to bring me to this place. Finally, I could do God’s work and support my family while doing so. I was certain that my prayers were answered and my faith was rekindled. But, what happened next was a barrage of events and realities that so vividly contradicted my beliefs; I was left with no choice but to question my faith.
I have always wanted to use my life to help other people and, here at this organization, I believed I could do this. So I gave all my knowledge to the greenhouse. Everything I knew. I began to get to know my manager very well. We spent many hours in the greenhouse talking about our faith. After months on the job, I was told that the greenhouse had been seeing financial losses since it had started more than a year ago. I came to realize that this was because our methods were highly inefficient and I began to believe that we should be relying on university research in horticulture to maximize the greenhouse’s efficiency, thereby, maximize profits that would then be donated to the organization’s cause. I consulted my manager on this idea and she agreed – but when I provided her with hundreds of pages of research data suggesting the use of methods that harshly contrasted our own, she refused to read any of them. I asked her why and she told me that pharmaceutical companies pay off scientists to falsify data for financial gain and this is true of ever branch of science. I failed to see how this applied to our situation.
When I heard her say this, I realized that I had said these same exact words to others in the past and I could not determine how I came to believe this. A few weeks later, she admitted to me that she did not know how to manage a garden or a business, but kept the job because she wanted the paycheck. Her husband had a very high paying job and they owned a small business together. She was draining the finances of this nonprofit organization for a paycheck she did not need. I also soon found that she had lied to me during my interview about the organization’s plan to raise fish in the greenhouse. This was, in fact, solely her plan, and the organization had already declined the proposal. She was using me to convince the board of directors to change their minds – and, although they did change their minds after receiving a sizable grant, I found this to be a disgusting act.
She also began telling me about her son. He had a chemical imbalance in his brain that often caused him to act out. She was taking him to a neurologist who prescribed him a medication that greatly calmed his behavior. She told me of success stories that the neurologist shared of former patients. He talked of a former football player who began suffering from a sex addiction after a severe head injury. The areas of this man’s brain that controlled the sex drive were found to have become over active. With medication, the over activity was able to be cured and the man was eventually able to end his medication and live normally once again. I found this confusing. There was no mention of such a possibility in the Bible. How did this fit into the doctrine the Bible? I wondered about all the people that lived before the age of science. People that were excommunicated, or even killed, in the name of religion because they suffered from similar curable brain afflictions. Would not an all-knowing God include this knowledge in his book so that his children would not persecute each other over these curable imbalances?
Her son came to help out at the greenhouse one day. She continually spoke down on him. She assumed the worst in everything he did. She complained and apologized for his behavior all day when he did nothing wrong in my eyes. She was very inconsiderate of him. He had come to volunteer for an hour in exchange for time at the skate park. But he ended up being forced to stay for three hours and had to give up his park time. I saw myself in this kid. I saw the way I was treated as a child. I began to see many aspects in my manager that reminded me of my own mother. It was as if they were the same person. I began to see her arrogance, self righteousness, and the same mistrust of all things scientific. Every attitude, every world view seemed to be identical. And I realized that this is the attitude of most of the Christians that I knew.
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Romans 13:1
There was also a pastor that volunteered at the greenhouse. He often talked about God and about politics. As most Christians, he held very conservative views. There was a recall election over a conservative governor happening at the time. The governor was attempting to bust the teacher’s union and take away their benefits. I believed this to be a huge mistake because it might cause an exodus of qualified teachers from our state and students, such as myself, would be negatively affected. I was the only Christian I knew that believed this. I shared this with the volunteer pastor and he disagreed. He returned the next day and shared with me a revelation he had the night before. He said that he realized Romans 13:1 meant that participating in an attempted recall of a government official was a sin against God. I thought this extremely narrow sighted and an obvious interpretation of scripture to suit his political ideal.
We also talked of social programs in the state. He believed taking advantage of these programs was also a sin and quoted II Thessalonians 3:10 as proof. I was on many social programs at the time. I wanted to gain a college education and better myself so that I could more effectively better the world. My parents did not contribute to paying my college tuition, so I worked many hours after classes in order to pay for school. Even so, if it were not for food stamps, day care assistance, and our states social medical program, I would not be able to feed my child while in school. In fact, I would likely not be in school at all and I would already be in debt from paying the hospital bill on my child’s birth – as I could not afford my employer’s unusually high medical insurance premium. Instead, I would be working my retail management job and living paycheck to paycheck for the rest of my life. How could I serve others when I lived a life that barely kept my own family fed? And why do they not consider these programs fulfillment of Jesus’ command to feed the poor? I knew that the Christian conservative majority was wrong on these issues and, if they were wrong about these issues, what else were they wrong about?
Crisis and Acceptance: De-conversion
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?“ I Corinthians 6:19
I had always believed that, when someone accepts Jesus as their personal savior, the Holy Spirit begins to live within that person. Everyone is born into sin and, without the Holy Spirit; everyone is controlled by that sin. It is the Holy Spirit, living within a Christian, that sets a Christian apart from the evil of the world and it is this fact that made Christianity the one true religion. This organization that I worked for was largely employed with people who called themselves Christians. Each of them constantly bickered and gossiped. A constant power struggle existed between the departments and no one believed that the other could do their job correctly. I believed that Christians are supposed to love and support each other, not pull each other down and this was not the behavior of people in which the Holy Spirit resides.
When I saw how these people behaved, I began to really doubt the Biblical teachings for the first time. More specifically, I doubted the teachings about the Holy Spirit. I realized that I had never met a Christian that lived up to my idealized conception of what a believer truly is and I began to consider that the Holy Spirit might not even exist. And, if the Holy Spirit did not exist, I wondered what that meant for my own spirituality? So I began to take a hard look at myself and I found that everything I found disgusting in these people existed in me as well. I was just as arrogant. I was just as self righteous. If these people were not a temple in which the Holy Spirit could exist, neither was I.
“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and they shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” Matthew 24:24
Also, I always believed that we are living in the end times and the Bible teaches that, during this time, many false prophets will lead God’s children away from Him. This weighed heavily on my mind – I did not want to be deceived. I was teetering between belief and disbelief and I wanted to make a decision based solely on the contents of the Bible – and that is what I did. My head filled with doubt, I opened the book. I first began to search for verses of guidance on how to identify a false prophet, but I found nothing of practical use. So I turned to Genesis and just started at the beginning. I never expected what I would find: the dehumanization of woman, rape, murder, and genocide. I had read these passages many times before, but this time, I could not justify their presence in my holy book.
God killed and commanded his people to kill each other and the people of other nations as if humans were less than that of insects in the eyes of God. This God was far from the loving God I thought I knew. Cognitive dissonance was no longer able to dictate the understanding of what I read and, eventually, I could not go on reading the Old Testament any longer. So I skipped to the New Testament and found something even more disturbing to me: contradictions. The amount of contradictions and gaps between the four gospels alone became painfully obvious. I could not imagine that the loving, infallible, perfect God, I had once believed in, could have inspired texts that I could now so easily find such obvious fault in.
My de-conversion had begun and I found myself in a daze. I walked each day from my car the university building feeling detached from my body. A mixture of sorrow and rage filled me as I thought back on my life. I looked at the other students around me and found myself unbearably jealous of the normal lives I assumed they all had led. People, walking with their friends, talking about their social lives - a luxury I could never seem to hold on to. I began to think of them as the enemy – evil people who could never understand me.
My life began to flash before my eyes like a cascade of images simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. Memories I had long blacked out began to resurface. I began to remember all the ways the Christians in my life had wronged me. I remembered rejection, isolation, and molestation. I looked within myself and saw a person void of confidence, petrified of social interaction, depressed, and suicidal. And I remembered all the ways I had wronged others. I was supposed to have the joy of the Lord in my heart, not these vile emotions. My own arrogance, my delusion, had blinded me from these things. But I could see clearly now and I could no longer look at myself in the mirror.
If I am to be angry at Christians, it seems only logical that I must be angry at myself as well – and that is not how I want to live. Relief came in an unlikely form. I was approached on campus by a traveling Hindu monk. He said that he had seen an unsettling look in my eyes. We talked for a long time. He told me how he had come from a fundamental Catholic family and understood my situation. He gave me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and told me that I should not lose my religion. He said that all religions and all people can live in harmony as long as we believe that each religion provides its own path to heaven for its believers. He had a peace in his voice that I found strangely comforting. He was a Hindu, an unbeliever, who seemed at peace with his life and that went against everything I was ever taught about unbelievers. I found myself regaining hope in people. It did not take me long to read his book but, I did not find it compelling. Strangely, I found this comforting and my anger began to subside. I became able to focus and my mind able to function again.
“. . . the fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.“ Psalms 14:1
I began to get to know a hand full of university professors. These people believed in evolution and a few openly identified themselves as atheists. I always believed in young earth creationism and was taught that evolution was an evil doctrine promoted by God hating atheists that made people savage, immoral beasts who cared only for survival. But this could not have been farther from what I observed. These atheists were self sacrificing, honest, and caring people – much more so than any Christian I have ever met. Furthermore, there were all these things while not seeking heavenly reward or fearing an angry God. I could not understand how it was possible that an unbeliever was seemingly more moral than a believer.
I was in a state where I still did not know what to believe and often thought myself crazy or deceived. I quickly realized that life was too short to study all the world’s religions deep enough to would reveal if they were truth and I did not have time to read books between my university studies. So I began to listen to radio programs. I got a new job in a greenhouse at the university and, as I often worked alone, I had much time to myself to listen to podcasts on my new cell phone. Conversations with some of my professors sparked a curiosity in me about atheism. So that is the first thing I search for when looking for a podcast to listen to. I came across a show called “A Matter of Doubt” that was interviewing a de-converted Laestadian Lutheran by the name of Edwin A. Suominen. He told his story which held many similar elements to my own and I found that striking. I had led an extremely sheltered life and had never heard anyone’s reasons for leaving Christianity. I had never considered the possibility of a full de-conversion from Christianity. I never knew a Christian who completely left the church or even expressed doubt in Christian doctrine. After listening to this podcast, I felt my concerns about Christianity might be valid and that I might not be crazy or completely deceived by the devil for the first time.
Months passed by and I listened to every podcast on religion and atheist I could find. I found the arguments for atheist much more compelling than those for religion. Between the podcasts and my studies in biology, I stopped seeing people as deprived, sinful beings created by a god – but, instead, I began seeing the human race as a species, unique in its level of self awareness, trying desperately to make peace with the continual cycle of death and rebirth that is existence on this earth. I began studying science more deeply – the collective observations of the great human minds of both the past and present. I realized the scope of human accomplishment and saw it with a new level of amazement. I began to realize how humans have unlocked so many of the secrets of biology, technology, and philosophy – cured disease, walked on the moon, and developed aspects of nearly globalized morality - all accomplished without the guidance of a supernatural deity.
Through readings of academic theology and podcasts by former Christian and current theologian Robert M. Price, I began understanding Biblical texts as recordings of myth and history that showed a testament to the progress we, as humans, have made in thought, reason, and the way we treat each other. How our ancestors once sacrificed their first born to the gods they saw manifested in the grandeur of nature; and now, how we attempt to treasure every human’s life as if it were our own. And I began seeing evolution with new eyes. How our ancestors developed from the first single celled organism to complex biological organisms and the first self aware humans, who conjured up the idea of an all-powerful god. How our ancestors reproduced and struggled to survive for millions of years – so that I could be here today. And I began to feel at peace with the world.
But one last matter remained: my wife whom I, myself, had converted to Christianity. This kept me awake at night. How was I to explain to my wife that the one who convinced her to accept Jesus no longer believed in Him? We had a son and I wanted nothing more than for him to grow up in a healthy home. We still attended church as a family, but the sermons were like torture. I could pick out lies and misinterpretations in every one. I wanted nothing more than to expose my disbelief but, afraid of the repercussions on my marriage, I could not bring myself to do so. Six months passed before I finally hit a breaking point. I didn’t spill it all out at one time, but did so with as a single drop of sarcasm.
I don’t remember the exact situation. It may have been during a discussion about a sermon or it may have been in reaction to a meme on the internet. What I do remember is the look on my wife’s face when she heard what I said. Her eyes widened, there was a long pause, followed by a look of complete relief. She completely agreed with me. We began to talk and what I found, I did not expect. This entire time, we were lying right next to each other, going through the same process of de-conversion at the same exact time – but we were to afraid to tell each other. We had both been attending church solely for the sake of the other. If only we had known, we could have gone through this together, we could have helped each other, but the extreme taboo the church puts on simple doubt forced us both to go through this process completely alone.
I can see my indoctrination clearly in each of Robert Jay Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform. Most strongly in that of Milieu Control - ”the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large“. And in Dispensing of existence - ”the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also“. This was the normal for me when I was a Christian. The world was, indeed, black and white, good and evil, and I had the fortune to be on the side of righteousness. Now that I see the world with different eyes, I am both ashamed that I once held to such a blind faith and frightened that countless people continue to be held by a doctrine that can so easily be proven false.
A common Christian reaction to a de-conversion story, such as mine, is to accuse the ex-Christian of being a prodigal who is only angry at God. They believe that fallen Christian will always return to God because life without Him is purposeless and completely void of joy. They cannot understand a de-conversion because they have never experienced a de-conversion. No, I am not angry at God. Anger towards God is something I had never even considered. As a Christian, I believed that one does not have the right to be angry at their creator. I believed that God owned me and could do with me as He pleased. Any trial or tribulation I was put through was part of His plan and, even if I could not see how, He was making me better by it. I did, however, hold anger towards other Christians in my life for a time. People who I thought had wronged me because they could not keep their own sinful nature under control.
Now that I do not believe in God, I still hold no anger towards Him. One simply cannot be angry at someone or something that he does not believe exists. I also hold no anger towards the Christians who wronged me. I view them only as deceived, repressed human beings. Human beings that bottled up their desires, their needs, and their functions until they burst into a spray of shrapnel that resulted in the collateral damage that I am today. If I am to be angry at Christians, it seems only logical that I must be angry at myself as well – and that is not how I want to live.
Where I once devoted my life to spreading Christianity, I now set aside only a small part of my free time to fighting Christianity – a religion that, although once necessary for our survival, has long outlived its usefulness and now acts only as a source of social regression. In my activism, I adopted the internet moniker “lungfish” because, although I now identify myself as an atheist, some aspects of Christianity will always be a part of me. For instance, occasionally, when I am walking the halls of my university, out of nowhere, my stomach drops out and I think to myself, “I am going to hell for this…” A Christian might think that this is the Holy Spirit trying to pull me back to God – but I know, without a doubt, that the Holy Spirit cannot exist.
I was taught that the Holy Spirit lives in the heart of anyone who accepts Jesus. Humans are inheritable evil and it is the Holy Spirit that allows Christians to act morally against their own evil nature. Unbelievers are incapable of true morality because God is the source of all morality and unbelievers do not know God. Throughout my Christian walk, everything in my life was screaming of the falsehood of these claims; but I would not listen because I was told not to listen. Until a single sentence, so arrogant and nearsighted, uttered by a church elder behind a pulpit, shut down my faith and laid the ground in which doubt would eventually take seed. This doubt allowed me to take the filter of Christianity off the lens through which I viewed the world and see my faith for what it truly was.
I know that this feeling of hell that I often get is not the work of the Holy. This feeling, instead, is the result of the religious psychological manipulation of the indoctrination that held me for twenty years. Each time I quickly recover from this feeling because I now know too much about the Bible, its history, and the history of the people who wrote it. And, it was only recently I realized that it has now been years since ending my own life has even crossed my mind - an action I considered almost monthly in the last ten years of my Christianity. Without Jesus, I find myself to be more confident, happier, and more in awe of the world around me and the universe than I ever had been when I called myself a Christian. The stories in the Bible will always be a part of me. I will always be a fish. But this fish grew lungs and can finally breathe the open air. And if this is possible for me, it is possible for anyone.