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I'm Free!

By Tim Wolf ~

I didn’t grow up in a churchy family. My parents had been active in the local Presbyterian Church. But my mom told me that since I was allergic to penicillin as a small child, the doctor said it was best not to over-expose me to public venues. I don’t know if this was the reason or not, but it doesn’t really matter.

At around 13, I started to become interested in Christianity on my own. I was baptized at the local Presbyterian Church and became fairly active there. I guess I could be described as a hot and cold Christian for the next several years. But then in my junior year of college, two guys knocked on my apartment door and explained to me about being born again. I didn’t pray with them then in front of my roommate. But I sought them out later and prayed with them. At that point, I was on fire!

Over the next several years I moved a lot but stayed active in the church. For several years I was a youth leader for a parachurch organization for a large high school near Raleigh, NC. Later I became a youth Sunday school teacher in a church in Illinois. It was during this time I decided to take the next step. I decided I wanted to be a missionary and spread the good news overseas. The process of becoming a missionary for this group was long and difficult. In the end, they said I was not accepted because one of the ten people who was to supply a reference for me had failed to do so. I think it was really because I was divorced, but they didn’t say that. Anyway, during this same time I was pursuing a possible overseas mission, I also immersed myself in Bible study. I entered an online Master of Theology program and also just spent a lot of time reading the Bible. I had read through the New Testament many times, so I decided to focus more time on the Old Testament. I read through the entire Old Testament (except the genealogies) twice. Of all of the bizarre stuff I read in the Old Testament, one thing sticks in my mind. In Exodus, why was God looking to kill Moses? This made no sense to me and the flimsy explanations I read in Bible commentaries didn’t help either. With all of the rape, incest, and murder in the Old Testament, I don’t know why this verse just stood out to me as being completely inconsistent. But it did.

Also during this time, a friend at church was telling me about a prayer group he was forming to “pray for our church.” I knew these were some of the key members at my church in this group, so I wanted to be a part of that. What I quickly learned was this “prayer group” was actually a weekly planning meeting for a coup to overthrow the senior pastor. I was shocked! I loved the pastor. He had even invited me to spend Christmas with his family since I did not have any family in the area. The more involved I got in this church, the more I realized there was a lot of nasty politicking going on behind the scenes involving all kinds of issues. I had gotten a peek behind the curtain of the church and I was shocked and dismayed at what I saw. I remember a sermon around this time where Paul explained that when someone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old is gone and they become new! I was thinking if these people are a “new creation”, I’m not sure the conversion process is a good one.

As an aside, there was another huge New Testament concern I had had for many years that nobody was able to explain to my satisfaction. And that is that the book of James absolutely contradicts all of the stuff that Paul was teaching throughout the New Testament. And oh yeah, I heard all of the arguments about how James was really agreeing with Paul and just saying faith without works is dead. But look, I’m a smart guy and I can read. James is not agreeing with Paul. James is taking Paul’s doctrine of salvation through belief and turning it on its head. I was so sure of this; I had even considered this as a thesis topic when I was taking graduate courses in Theology.

So shortly after I moved from Illinois to Alabama, I learned that the pastor at my old church had gotten the boot. Even today as an atheist, it bothers me how this honorable man who had treated me like a son, got such an unceremonious ousting from his church. He deserved better.

Something that helped in my recovery from the damage the church had done to me was to make friends who were not “church going.” Wow, was that refreshing!In Alabama, I decided to join a very large church and planned to keep a low profile and avoid the church politics. But the senior pastor at this church delivered powerful sermons. And each Sunday morning, he made me feel more-and-more guilty for not getting involved whole-heartedly in church activities. So eventually I gave in and started calling various associate pastors and lay leaders trying to find where I would fit in. What I learned was they didn’t want me involved in their “ministry.” It felt just like high school when you tried to join a club with the “cool kids”, only to find out they didn’t want you. I learned later from an associate pastor there that I was not alone in this problem. Many, many people in the church felt torn apart because the senior pastor blasted them for not getting more involved, but the associate pastors didn’t want their help. And this led to more feelings of guilt as we weren’t doing “God’s work.”

After I left Alabama, I had become completely disenchanted with the church. Later I even found out that senior pastor in Alabama with the fiery sermons had been fired as chaplain at a large university when it was revealed that he had been having an adulterous affair for many years.

Something that helped in my recovery from the damage the church had done to me was to make friends who were not “church going.” Wow, was that refreshing! I still maintained that I was a born-again Christian, but these friends were ok with that. I could even express my issues with the church and the Bible and not be judged. Even in this freeing environment, it took me another decade to fully realize I just did not believe in this Biblical foolishness anymore. One day as I perused some books on amazon.com, I came across a book “Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity” by John Loftus. I don’t know why this book came up in my search, but I’m glad it did. I downloaded it to my kindle and devoured it over a weekend. I emailed John Loftus and thanked him for writing the book and quickly received a nice reply from him. Then I started reading other books like “The God Delusion” and “De-Converted,” and visiting atheist websites. I used to think Richard Dawkins was probably the most evil man on the planet. Now I realized I had more in common with these atheists than I had ever had with people in the church. And who knew, atheists can be very nice people!

I encourage anyone who has issues with the Bible or the church to not just accept the “church line”, but explore it for yourself. Guess what, the book of James is in contradiction to the writings of Paul. In fact, the New Testament is chock full of contradictions if one will just look at them critically and not buy into the excuses made by Christians. To quote Luis Bunuel,
“Thank God I’m an atheist!”

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