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Still recovering from the God virus

By Rudy --

This is my ex-Christian story. My parents were both raised in very religious protestant farming families in Iowa. I was born in 1957 while they were attending Los Angeles Chiropractic College. We attended the church in which my parents were raised. This church was called Christian Conventions, but if you asked a member what the name of their church was, they would say they did not have a name.
However, they would gladly refer you to one of their missionaries, called workers, who could explain the religion to you. In fact, I did not even know their name until I recently Googled them based on their hymnal. Christian Convention members claim their religion does not need a name because they were the original and only Christians. Christian Conventions members believe that they are the only people going to heaven because only they follow the Bible precisely.

During their Sunday worship at members’ houses, the members sang hymns off key, without a leader or a piano. They took turns praying in old English and then took turns giving their response to passages in the Bible. They did not pass a donation plate but they pass around the grape juice and each person took turns picking a piece off a slice of Wonder Bread. Children were not allowed to partake of the Wonder Bread. I remember resenting the fact that I could not eat the bread. I could not wait to be a grown up so I could do these adult activities. Not being old enough was a recurrent theme in my Christian upbringing. Not being old enough became my primary motivation for becoming a Christian although I did not realize it at the time.

I hope I can someday help someone break away from religion and irrationality. I hope I can help prevent someone from worrying about whether God was telling him/her to do something or God is leading him/her in a certain direction.Christian Conventions members are not allowed to watch TV, dance, drink alcohol, smoke, or exchange gifts on Christmas. The women cannot wear make up or cut their hair, but they could wear black socks and long dresses. The men could wear whatever they wanted but they could not grow out their facial hair. There are about a million of them worldwide.

When my dad was about 20 years old, he was a missionary for the Christian Convention church. He was not allowed to own anything. He and his partner just lived off the church members as he traveled. He had a bad experience with his missionary partner so he joined the army. Upon return, he married my mother and both enrolled in chiropractic college. My parents had occasionally expressed doubts about whether Christian Conventions members were the only ones going to heaven.

I did not have many friends as a child because I moved from school to school many times until I was eight. I wanted to fit in with my peers, but I always felt I was different because of my religion and because I was frequently the new kid in school. As a result, my parents and the church people were a big part of my childhood. The adults in my life were the people I was trying to please, but I was frustrated with them because they never accepted me as an equal due to my youth.

When I was seven years old, my parents quit the Christian Conventions Church. When I was eight years old, my mother converted to Southern Baptist while my dad stopped going to church. I was told that I could be baptized, but only after I reached “the age of accountability “ and “accepted Jesus as my savior.” Again, I was frustrated by my young age and wanted to prove that I had reached “the age of accountability” so I could be “saved” and baptized. One day, the preacher talked to me about Jesus and I started crying. I was “saved” and was later baptized by being dunked in water by the preacher.

My mother’s devotion to the church pushed a wedge between my parents. My dad wanted to do fun things like drive to the mountains on a Sunday but my mother wanted to go to church instead and accused my dad of taking her away from her church. They divorced when I was ten and my dad moved away.

By age 11, I had become a bible-thumping evangelical Southern Baptist who carried a New Testament in his shirt pocket for “leading people to the Lord.” I lead one friend to the Lord who later became an Army chaplain. In Sunday school, I remember asking questions about the Bible: How could God have never been created? What did God do before creating the world, just sit around? What do we do in heaven? How could Jesus be his own father? Many times when I did not understand the answer, I was told that I would understand when I got older. I was again frustrated because I was not old enough. As I aged, though, none of my questions were answered and my understanding of the world did not become clearer as a Christian.

Then, in a sophomore high school world religions class, a guest speaker preacher told a Muslim foreign exchange girl that she was going to hell when she died. I began to question whether the God that I knew would issue eternal punishment to an innocent religious girl who was raised in a non-Christian religion. Later, in college, I learned about evolution and finally I felt like I was starting to understand the universe. Finally things made sense. I was old enough! I became a passive atheist; that is, I did not try to convince anyone to be atheist or join any group.

Since then, I have been drawn into religious life many times because I yearned for fellowship and connection to something bigger than me. However, because I did not believe in God, none of the religious episodes ever lasted very long. Perhaps the most enduring religious phase was when I joined the Catholic Church in order to be a part of the same church as my wife, my older son born in 1987, and my younger son born in 1990.

It is very easy to be an atheist in the Catholic Church because there is very little discussion of beliefs. In fact, during my become-a-catholic class, I told the priest that I had doubts that God existed, but he said that was okay with him. After all, he probably thought I would be contributing when the plate was passed. I could look and feel very holy without saying anything. I just crossed myself, bowed before entering the pew and put holy water on my forehead, but I felt very disingenuous doing so. I did not have to look anyone in the eye and say that I believed in God, like I would have to do as a Baptist.

Another religious experience as an atheist was that I found myself praying even though I know I was just talking to myself. I rationalized that I was just talking to my subconscious mind. When I tried to stop praying, I would get an empty purposeless feeling about not having an imaginary friend to whom to talk. In 2005, I joined a Universalist church that welcomed atheists, but I quit after they said it was expected that I donate at least $100 per month.

When my younger son was about 13, going to Catholic (CCD) classes, he told me that his religion teacher told the class that she saw ghosts and she shared specific instances with the class. My son was rather disturbed about this ghost story telling and I think that experience planted seeds of doubt in his mind about God. Later, after my younger son became a confirmed Catholic at age 17, he told me he had become an atheist. I found out from him that my other son was also atheist. I decided to come out of the closet and be true to myself about my atheism and I have not regretted my decision. However, I still sometimes ask myself, what if I am wrong and I will be going to hell?

To fight these irrational thoughts, I became very active on Facebook, joining every Atheist group I could find and contributing to discussions whenever possible. The more active I am as an atheist, the less frequently I wonder whether I am going to hell. It helps me heal from my Christianity when I think, talk, and write about how ridiculous it is to believe in a book of magical tales of unknown authors written thousands of years ago. Although I regret raising my boys as Catholics, I think they will have a much easier time breaking away from irrational thoughts than I did.

I hope I can someday help someone break away from religion and irrationality. I hope I can help prevent someone from worrying about whether God was telling him/her to do something or God is leading him/her in a certain direction. All these kinds of thoughts are stressful and totally unnecessary.

Recently, I read The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins) and A Letter to a Christian Nation (Sam Harris), which helped me a lot in erasing my irrational doubts about atheism. I am currently reading The God Virus (Darryl Ray), which is helping me to understand why I am having difficulty breaking away from Christianity. Religion is behaves like a virus in many ways and is very difficult to eradicate completely.

The God Virus also helped me realize that the only way to help rid the world of religion in the U.S. is by improving science education. I also believe I can help an individual recover from the God virus, but only if he/she has already started to recover and are asking questions. If an individual is severely infected, there is virtually no presentation of the facts that will sway him/her. I have never undertaken a cause other than Christianity, but now I want to help rid the world of religion. If there is anything I can do to help heal people from the God virus, I will go to great lengths to further that endeavor.