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The Gift of Apostasy

By Jeffrey J Mathews ~

The following testimonial is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a friend last year. This is Part One of a series that will continually evolve; I will later discuss my journey out of hell and into the peacefulness that I enjoy today as an agnostic ex-christian.

To put my story into its context, it may be helpful for readers to know that I was born and raised in a small town in Indiana. My parents divorced when I was one year old. I had a very difficult childhood filled with much neglect and abuse from others. Upon high school graduation I was an empty shell of a human-being suffering from trauma. After high school I spent two years in Pennsylvania living with my grandparents; it was here that I was first converted to evangelical Christianity before returning to my hometown at the age of 20.

My desire is to one day give every one of you a voice in the mainstream of American consciousness through the mediums of film and television. When that time comes, I want to tell your stories to the entire world so that others will think twice about "getting saved." My name is Jeffrey J. Mathews, and this is my story.

When I was 18, going on 19, I became a Christian. There was this middle-aged woman from Indiana that I was acquainted with just before I moved to my grandparents’ home in Pennsylvania. She walked me through a “sinner’s prayer” over the telephone. I was promised "an abundant life in Christ." She meant well, but this moment marked the beginning of a long journey of living hell for me, fourteen years of spiritual abuse that drove a wedge between me and God; to this day I continue to recover from it all these years later.

In those early months, I acquired two new friends, the only true friends that I ever had within the church community. Both of them were of my parents’ generation. Chip was a Baptist minister; he baptized me in a river when I was 19. I recall that his wife took a picture of this. He was a good man with a wonderful sense of humor. He even told an occasional dirty joke for "shits and giggles." Wherever he is today, I know he is still a good man, telling jokes to others. Rose was a married mother with kids already grown up and moved out. She was very spiritual; she was someone who claimed that “the Lord” was always speaking to her audibly. Whether this really did occur or if she merely had an active imagination, I do not know. The last I heard, she and her husband moved to another state many years ago. Meanwhile, my grandparents were very religious, devout Catholics who observed all the holy days and never ate meat on Fridays. (I, too, grew up Catholic when I was a little kid).

In the evangelical community, I was taught that Catholics “aren’t really Christians and will surely go to hell” when they die. Not yet having reasoning skills of my own at the age of 19, this belief was planted into my brain and had an adverse effect upon my relationship with my only grandparents. When I left them at the age of 20 to go back to Indiana to live with my father for the very first time (he was building a new house then), I did not know that my grandfather would be dead a year later from cancer.

Once settled in Indiana again, two years after high school, I pursued my spiritual life as a young Christian. Over the years, I have visited every kind of evangelical church, both in Indiana and Pennsylvania. Yet, there was something that was always nagging me for years. Now that I was “saved,” was that a guarantee that I will go to heaven when I die? I would like to have said “Yes,” but every time I told myself this, some Christian would come along with a Bible in his hand to tell me, “No, it is not guaranteed,” and he (always a man) would show me the “proof” from his Bible. So, therefore, THE ULTIMATE OUTCOME WAS ALWAYS IN DOUBT and I never could experience any kind of inner peace. Always I would worry if God was mad at me, or if perhaps I did something that might have displeased Him. If I were to die without making proper amends with the Lord, what would happen to me?

At age 21, I enrolled in a Christian college thinking that someday I would become a minister. After a year or so, I got burned out and I dropped out, spending the next eleven years wandering, lost in my life, deep in debt, and broke all the time. I don’t want this to become a full autobiography so I will summarize what I learned when I was a Christian.

  • I was unworthy. Whatever I was doing, I was always unworthy and deserved no good thing from God, not even His love and mercy; I had no sense of self-worth.
  • I was a sinner. They all told me I was born into sin. Even St. Paul made this claim. Some of them said that deep down I was so wicked, so vile, that God couldn’t even look upon me except for “the shed blood of Jesus Christ.”
  • My life didn’t matter. All around me I saw other people getting the blessings from God and I got nothing. All I had was my pain and my loneliness.
  • God was never satisfied. No matter what I did for him, God always wanted more. If I did not give God what God wanted, He might become angry and punish me.
  • I was taught to loathe myself. Somewhere I had learned that for me to love myself was the very definition of sin itself (if not the highest act of treason against God).
  • I learned that women are inferior to men. St. Paul made this same bullshit claim! Now I understand why, in our male-dominated society, that little boys grow up into troubled men who degrade and then abuse their women (something that never aligned with my own inner truth).
  • I learned that this so-called “loving God” is JUST and will one day punish everyone who doesn’t have the “right” religion, and cast them all into hell. I learned that my own sexuality was sinful in God’s eyes. This was a constant source of torment within me, keeping me afraid to approach God.
  • I learned that people in the LGBT community were enemies of God. Once again, St. Paul reveals his bigotry. Yet, my observation was that they were human beings just like me who wanted only to be loved and accepted as much as anyone; Matthew Shepard taught me this.

Keep in mind now that I have never been part of any hardcore hellfire-and-brimstone fundamentalist sects, only the “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” evangelicals. All the pain and anguish I suffered growing up stayed with me, and was amplified, those fourteen years. There was NO HEALING for me within the evangelical community, only religious indoctrination and legalism. For fourteen years, I allowed other people to tell me “what God wants” from me, what “God’s will” is for me.

Always I would worry if God was mad at me, or if perhaps I did something that might have displeased Him.I have witnessed many things but the one thing I never found was love. Yes, there was much lip service to “God’s unconditional love,” but this was always defined by the 'conditions' or 'requirements' of God in order for people to have salvation. All of this, to me, is evangelical Christianity. Before I had reached the age of 29, I was completely shut down emotionally. I felt dead inside and I could not feel, period. When I was 32, I was no more emotionally developed than I had been at the age of 18, as fragile as ever before. Looking back, I now believe I was mentally ill (neurotic) during those years, but I could not see it at the time.

In late 2002, I moved to Tennessee in search of work. I had reached rock bottom. I had no purpose in life and no hope either. God was there, knew about me, but didn’t give a damn about me. I had been promised an “abundant life in Jesus Christ,” but “Jesus” never delivered on the promise. I wished I had never been born. I wanted to commit suicide, but I couldn’t quite get myself there. I just could not put my parents through the anguish and grief from the death of their only child, me. This is my Christian testimony.

To be continued...