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I Want To Break Free

By Matt:

I’m listening to Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” as I’m writing this. Music is such a wonderful source of inspiration in times like these.

QueenQueen via last.fm

I love the world. I find that investigating the world around me is interesting, fascinating…and devastating, especially to the Christian fundamentalist. That’s the reason I’m here. I'm here because I wanted to know and I wouldn't stop until I had my answers. I’ve read quite a few testimonies before I decided to submit mine and I was astounded that I wasn’t the only one out there. It gives me hope -- something I hadn't felt in a long time.

I want to keep this as short as possible but I have a lot to say. I have a love-hate relationship with Christianity that can’t be summarized easily. Parts of Christianity I find fascinating and wonderful – like the verses in Ecclesiastes concerning “a time for everything” or the verses in Corinthians about love. However, there are things about Christianity I abhor. I can’t stand the hypocrisy, the excuse-making, the lying, the justification of horrible acts, and worst of all – the ignorance! Intellectually, the ability to reason with facts and evidence seems like it should be common trait, but even as I have a continued dialogue with some of these folks and I’ve given them ample evidence for certain arguments (like evolution), I am always “wrong” because “I lack faith”. It’s like talking to a brick wall. I guess because I am somewhat new to Agnosticism, I feel the need to show others the “good news” of the things I’ve found, but the will to believe what one wants to believe is difficult to break. You all know this. Most of you were there, so I’m really just rambling now.

To be nice, I still keep in contact with some of the people I went to church with, but because I am so forward they think I’m only a rabble-rouser, bad influence, spawn of the devil or somewhere between the three. I was not afraid to call my Preacher on a lie or misinformation that he spewed no matter what the time or context was and I never gave a damn how unpopular it made me. However, to be fair, I’m willing to listen to any of them in an open, honest, informed discussion. So to say that Christianity out of my life completely is incorrect because of some of the values Christianity did instill in me and the open dialog I’ve kept. Christianity will always play a factor in who I am.

I was invited to church when I was five years old and baptized when I was seven. I did it for two reasons: the constant pressure to accept Jesus at a young age as one’s personal Lord and Savior is difficult to fight when that’s all you know, and the other kids were doing it, so why don’t I? I was raised in the church, I was a bit of an outcast (I was overweight, shy, reclusive) and I didn’t really blossom until I was a teenager. I just sat quietly, did the things kids do (zone out until church was over), and basically piddled away about ten years of my life in Vacation Bible School, Children’s/Youth Camp, etc. continually being indoctrinated by close friends and their families. Yeah, it seemed true, but I really had no contending world-views, so I saw it all as truth and did not question it. I was a good little lamb because my world was so small.

However, around 12 or so, I rededicated my life to Christ. I was as serious as a 12 year old kid could be (take it as you will. I really became interested in the Bible because, as I was coming up in school, I found that there were relevant issues going on that I could apply what I’d been taught (or indoctrinated). So I read, studied and prayed. I won’t lie – I really did feel something, but I know now the power of emotion and I was a very emotional child. I lived a sheltered teen life when I was young. I was still picked on because of my weight and because I was quiet, I was a very passive person. That would lead me to self-pity, but I always had the Bible and church to make me feel better. I needed validation, so I was taking whatever I could and I was eating up everything the church had to give me. When I was about 14 or 15, people began to notice me because I was very knowledgeable when it came to doctrine. I was, according to them, “living a moral life” and I was “studying the word of God like a good Christian should.” I was doing the Jesus-thing and I was doing it well. I even felt Christ’s presence in my life, though now I just recognize it as the same sort of feeling a person gets when talking to an imaginary friend. On ethical issues and issues of morality, I had the best validation I could’ve had: God’s law! It was supreme, it was final, and no one could (or should) question it. I had found empowerment and I loved it! I became a firebrand (still am in some respects) for the faith because I seemed to know more than the others did in my age group. My preacher thought I had the makings of a very talented pastor because of my relationship with Christ and my ability to interpret and articulate God’s word. Oh, the irony.

“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum will show that faith proves nothing.” – Nietzsche. I remember this as the zenith of my church career. I had my hands in everything – choir, Sunday School, camp counseling, praise and worship teams, etc.. I still wasn’t popular but I kept busy to compensate. When I look back, I realize now how horrible of a person I was. I would’ve made a great inquisitor because I was always comparing morals, judging people (much against the supposed “Christian nature”), and I felt on top of the world and all its vices because Jesus was on my side. The elders loved me because I was “righteous” and had so much “insight”. I loved having the backing of a source that, in my little world, was unquestionable. I was in the right because the Bible told me so. It didn’t matter how many Creationist v. Evolution debates I lost (many). It didn’t matter how many other belief systems I learned (they’re all “heathen, wrong, and doomed to Hell”) and it didn’t matter who I talked to – they were all either potential converts or damned. My attitude was: I would listen, but you were still wrong unless you gave it to Jesus. I would point fingers, which was easy because some of the people were full-on hypocrites. Everything from “read nothing except the Bible and ignore things that are just as/more credible because they’re lying” to the gossiping to seeing the “real power of redemption” played out by partying on Saturday and praying on Sunday. I saw all this at a very young age and I felt it was my Christian duty to address sin and ignorance head-on. “Judge lest ye be judged” didn’t ring true in my church. I found myself getting into a lot of moral and ethical conflicts where I had the Bible as my backing. I was an argumentative and egotistical nightmare and if I met myself now, I’d probably have a LONG talk with him about manners.

However, when I saw this lifestyle wasn’t going anywhere and was causing contention, I mellowed out a bit. I focused more on myself than other people and this was when I started to question – just a little at first, but it was the first step. Questioning was actually allowed in our version of Christianity but it was conditional. If you did think, it had to be within certain perimeters. It was the equivalent of letting a dog out to run with a shock collar that activates when it goes too far. When those boundaries are crossed – BZZT – you’re burned! The process and conclusions had to be within the boundaries of doctrine or else, no matter how logical or common-sense the conclusion and argument were – it was wrong. If they said the sky was blue and it had Biblical backing, I could’ve taken them outside on a dreary, grey, dark day and I was still wrong. Furthermore, I was sinful for thinking I had the audacity to challenge any of God’s precepts, so anytime I did question, guilt kept me in check. I lived in limbo like this throughout the last part of my high school years. I attempted to keep it together, though, and I still assumed God had the answers, even if I couldn’t figure them out. I kept at it though, and like one of good faith, I would raise my questions to my church leaders (the Pastor, the Youth Leader, older Christians, etc.) and they’d have answers that, at the time, were fine. So I would settle. They set the boundaries and assisted me in my understanding of the world. What I didn’t know was how limited theirs was and it pains me to think how blind they really were. When I was a senior in high school, at my graduation party, I’ll never forget what I heard my preacher say to me as I was going to go off to college: “don’t listen to everything those professors say – take it all with a grain of salt. They’re going to say a lot of things that sound good and make sense, but they’re lies. Just keep reading your Bible and be very careful of other things you read.” It was all too clear then, as I had been catching on during the process of mellowing, that the church was very concerned on what was being fed into the minds of their youth.

I went away to school, but not far. I came back to church every Sunday and I even taught Sunday school for a year or so. This was when the birthing pangs of agnosticism kicked in. I was feeling conflicted because piece-by-piece, what they had told me was making less and less sense in the face of other, more rational and well-thought out theories and facts. I was also lonely and when I called on God, I felt nothing. I was always able to “feel the presence” of God when I was around the others back home. I remember feeling extremely conflicted about certain issues. Evolution would not go away, no matter how much I would deny it, and neither would the geological evidence or Biblical “contradictions” that I found when browsing a website. I remember feeling only one thing, though, as I was contemplating all of this: I was scared. The first time I Googled “biblical contradictions”, I felt like a 13 year old who stumbled onto his dad’s smut collection; I felt guilty because I actually enjoyed what I was looking at because it made sense. I wish I could tell you that it all fell apart suddenly, but I am amazed now at how far I fought to keep it all together. Every piece that fell apart, I tried frantically to glue back together, but the wall of faith was crumbling under the hammers of logic, reason, and evidence. I read pieces by Apologists, I would read Creationist material, I would pray and pray. I blamed myself at first; I considered myself the heathen, the fool, the outsider. I had the encouragement of others to keep the faith, love the Lord, and to ignore those things that bothered me, as they were “of the world. However, my need to know – something that drove me ever since I was a small child – was far more powerful than their words and, because of my curiosity, once things took their final turn, things changed VERY fast.

I thank my educators for who I am now. I also thank Plato because his picture of Socrates changed my life. I was amazed when I first had to read The Trial and Death of Socrates my Freshman year of college. Here was a man who was similar to Jesus, thus I had to at least hear him out. The two have enough in common, right? Both dying for their beliefs? Both never writing their own material? Both having a dedicated group of followers? Both touting virtue and moral commandments? There was one thing vastly different, though: Socrates questioned everything and hardly ever relied on faith. This was profound to me because, as I practiced it, it gave me more satisfying answers to my questions. I decided to adopt this approach because God and Christ would, if they were the supreme truths, reveal themselves in everything. God would want me to reason my way to Him, right?

The whole “I know nothing” thing really blew my mind when I began practicing and my God! I found it to be extremely true with myself. I realized that all of those years I was growing up, I really knew only one thing, and even then I didn’t know for sure, as all I had was based on faith. This turned my world upside down! I exposed myself to history, philosophy, geology, theology, etc. I left no stones unturned, and I renewed addressing the difficult questions I had so long been discouraged from tackling rationally. I would question in Sunday school, I would question my preacher, I would talk to people, but when I wouldn’t begin accepting their previous explanations or offering rebuttals, they didn’t take too well to it. It was confirmed to me that, really, these people had “answers”, but they didn’t know anything! When they would deride evolution but couldn’t explain it to me, nor could they provide answers that didn’t boil down to “have faith”, “bad translation”, “it’s not your job to question or know the things of God” or some other half-assed answer, or straight up denial, the red flag sprang up. I would discuss contradictions in the Bible, of which, according to them: “there are none.” I did all of this questioning at the cost of alienating people and stripping away Christian precepts that had been instilled into me since I was five. Because I was seen as “lacking faith”, I lost my Sunday school teaching position. They rationalize that I wasn’t teaching the kids faith, and it was difficult to when they were attempting to think it through – how could I kill that curiosity? When the kids would ask me questions like “well, Jesus said that we should not follow the old law, so why are we using the Old Testament?” and “this verse says to follow the Old Testament, but didn’t he make the old law null and void?”, the best answer I would have was “investigate further”. Some of them began to question the perfection of the Bible and why those in charge were “picking and choosing”. Why aren’t we killing homosexuals and witches? How do you explain the Crusades? Why do we sometimes work on the Sabbath? What happens to those who have never heard of Christ? Why are there different versions of event such-and-such?” I encouraged them to ask questions and to think things through and the preacher didn’t take too kindly to it. Maybe Christ should’ve thought twice about having people come into his kingdom with the minds of children because those kids, especially the teenagers, weren’t completely subdued by the doctrine and they saw what was up. Sadly, most of them are now as they’ve had it pounded in their heads after I left, but it gives me hope to see that sort of curiosity.

At any rate, I read other things, studied other religions, and I realize that, when distancing myself from Christianity – they all said the same bloody thing! I read the Qur’an, I studied the Book of Mormon, I read books from the beginning of Christianity, Evolution, other religions etc. and I am slated to read a few others, but when lined up, it’s like one big crap shoot. Combine those with evolution being highly indisputable, the glaring ethical and logical arguments, and silence of God through prayer and I realize that for almost 15 years of my life, I had been living off a lie. Emotional highs, blind-faith, unquestioning devotion, and conformity a good sheep make – but it’s a horrible quality to have in a human being. I couldn’t put faith into anything when I realized that a life of evidence was more satisfactory than a life of blind obedience. It was clear to me.

I lost the support of many of the elders, I lost many friends, I was equated to the “devil” at my church, and I was denounced by many (except the Pastor and a few others ironically enough) as ungodly. They would tell the youth “not to be like Matt”. When people asked me why I left, I told them why: “I can’t believe in myths and fairy tales.” An argument would ensue, but it would end with “you’re deluded and God is very disappointed in you!” They refused to listen. In the end, I just told them what I had concluded and I made them aware of why I was walking away. Of course, one can’t reason with a mob-mentality, but I occasionally show up to the church in good “faith” because, as I put it to one of my friends: “I’ll always be able to listen to your side if you’ll listen to mine.” Of course, I’m put through the ringer, and sometimes I receive a snide comment (to which I gladly offer one back), but I go to hear out the Pastor. He doesn’t mind as long as I don’t “sow discord”, which is difficult when much of what they say is a lie, unproven, or a series of misinformation, and I assure you that there are times when I want to speak up (and have spoken up) and say “well, sir, that’s not ENTIRELY true…let me tell you why”. Those things considered I will always listen to what they have to say, but I can easily counter them with a dose of common sense. I sit through the scolding I receive for not coming back by those who don’t know of my agnosticism and I listen to them criticize me for having my head “filled with lies”. I then offer criticisms back. Other times, during the service, I can feel some people’s eyes just drilling into the back of my “heathen head” and I know in their minds, I’m not welcomed there anymore. My relationship now with the church is tolerable at best. It’s complicated.

I’ll always be a bit of a firebrand and the pursuit of truth will always drive me, but I am intolerant of ignorance and I learned that taking things on faith is a horrible precept. “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum will show that faith proves nothing.” – Nietzsche. I will probably cut ties when I graduate college and move away, but I give them every chance I can.

As I write, I can conclude that I don’t know what the answer to the million dollar question is concerning life, but I can throw in my two cents in a well-informed manner when issues come up. I still continue to read and study as much as I can in matters of religion, history, ethics, philosophy, psychology, and other fields that both enhance my future teaching position and assist me in negating the fairy-tales and obtuse arguments made by Christians. I personally live a life close to Buddhism (though I don’t use the name) with Socratic tendencies, but I have the guts to say that I may not know what is right, but I can discern what is wrong. Christianity is wrong on so many levels. Sorry, kids, but the Bible has errors, the logic has fallacies, and “faith” doesn’t cut it anymore. Give me something real – that has always been my challenge and it still stands.

I know that was long, but my struggle with it has been one that’s jumped around a lot, and I’ve thought about my rational quite a bit. I will continue struggling with the lifestyle I chose for myself and with those who will continue advocating how wrong and deluded I am. I’m free of those chains and I’ve been happier now than I’d been for almost 20 years. This site fills me with hope seeing people use their heads. I thank each one of you for your inspiration as you’ve helped me realize that I’m not alone in fighting this battle. Thank you.

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