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Why I left the Canadian Reformed Church

By Chuck Eelhart ~

I was born into a believing family. The denomination is called Canadian Reformed Church. It is a Dutch Calvinistic Christian Church. My parents were Dutch immigrants to Canada in 1951. They had come from two slightly differing factions of the same Reformed faith in the Netherlands. Arriving unmarried in Canada they joined the slightly more conservative of the factions. It was a small group at first. Being far from Holland and strangers in a new country these young families found a strong bonding point in their church.

Deutsch: Heidelberger Katechismus, Druck 1563
Deutsch: Heidelberger Katechismus, Druck 1563 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was born in 1955 the third of eventually 9 children. We lived in a small southern Ontario farming community of Fergus. Being young conservative and industrious the community of immigrants prospered. While they did mix and work in the community almost all of the social bonding was within the church group. Being of the first generation born here we had a foot in two worlds. We went to public Canadian secular schools but did not really fit in to that group socially as it was firmly implanted that we were different than them. It was not usually stated but definitely implied that our Christian and Dutch lifestyle was superior. As a very young person it is a wonderful world to be enveloped in. As you grow you are also heavily indoctrinated into this ideology. There are pat answers for all questions and it definitely seems to all add up. We had supplemental religion classes on Saturdays, church on Sundays and Catechism classes on Tuesday nights. As we became teens there were study weekends, weekly Sunday night young people’s bible study where the youth had to take turns making speeches on chosen texts. Socially there would be inter church (only within the Can. Ref.) hockey games. By the late 1960s they also started their own private Christian schools; elementary levels first and now from kindergarten to universities. A “believing” child needs now never to be educated in the secular world.

The churches expanded and in fact continue to do so throughout Canada. I repeat it was a wonderfully comfortable exclusive club to belong to. The benefits were many. Everyone either knows every one else or knows someone who does. The young people have a ready supply of approved teens to date. Early on there was a bigger problem of who to date as the group was smaller but with growth this is somewhat better. It is no longer necessary to marry your first cousin although it does still happen. This also leads to many young boys and girls of mild adventure to travel to distant churches to seek partners. I was one of those who did some roaming. First to British Columbia and then to Edmonton were I found my bride to whom I am still happily married after 34 years. We moved back to B.C., were active in the church, paid our financial dues, and also had our 2 children indoctrinated in this church and school system. Another wonderful benefit of the church is what I called the social protection package. By that I mean these enterprising Christians have many businesses. It is always possible if one toes the line to get a job within the circle. So a large number of the adherents have limited connections to the outside world. I too had many jobs within this umbrella. It was very comfortable. Eventually I became a realtor and after an initial rough period where it almost seemed I was being tested I became quite successful with about 80 per cent of my business coming directly from the circle.

I was happily married. Two perfect children who had just finished high school and a career directly associated with the church, a mortgage free dream home with more investment properties. What could possibly be wrong? Why would I suddenly leave this association that appeared to work so well for us?

Leaving this group is not an easy process. If one misbehaves, has a deviancy or commits a crime the church will deal with you in a firm manner. They maintain that one of the three marks of a true church is church discipline. As long as one does not deny his faith he will be subject to the long process of discipline, the object of which is repentance for sins committed and a return to the fold as a member in good standing. This keeps the church pure.

Withdrawing from the membership is usually a drastic step that definitely confirms that you no longer wish any association with the group. While shunning is not an absolute official sanction in practice this is what does occur and is also expected to happen by those who do leave in this way. It was also the method I chose. I sent a brief, tightly worded paragraph to my Pastor. This is a man I’d known since childhood who I respect. I left no doubt, sending it registered mail and firmly stating that I wished no further contact. I had zero doubts about parting but did not want to entertain any exhortations to reconsider.

So why exactly did I leave?

I was a member in good standing. I had never been a keener hoping for any status within the hierarchy. I was maybe considered a mild rebel or a back-bencher. Not an obstacle but also not a shining star of faith. In my mind I always wanted to reserve the right to question ideas that within the group are widely accepted. Seemingly simple things of reason. I would have many discussions with people about doctrine and religious ideals. This church has a literal belief in the Bible. They also swear allegiance to a number of declarations of faith called Confessions and the Heidelberg Catechism. There is much to question. Many things that logically do not balance. Discussions always follow the same format. First there will be an attempt to reason using world wide facts If an argument such as old (3.5 billion years) earth to new (6000year) earth bogs down, where science clearly has vast evidence, then faith in the literal “truth” of the bible will be held as truth. I am very interested in science and knew that by this time evolution and old earth as true as the round/flat earth argument of 250 years ago.

The church is also very patriarchal. Women only have rights through their men. They are allowed to teach in schools but have no real place other than subservience in the church hierarchy.

The First question and answer in the Catechism ( a formal bible summary in 52 parts to be used as a study aid) called Lords Day #1 went like this. What is your only comfort in life and death? The answer is. That I am not my own but belong to Jesus Christ who fully paid for my sins and saved me... This is apparently a great comfort to the believers but always irked me to the core and also a final straw that helped me to leave. The audacity that one does not belong to one’s self is so absolutely absurd to me and of course as I knew is also the very first step used by any person or force that wants to dominate someone. Take away a person’s right to self. Get them to agree to this and you can control them for life. Wrap up in this package how evil and wicked the world is, that a person is condemned to eternal damnation, without hope unless through faith in this particular organization plus the Christian ideology and you then have complete control of them. These things were not often spoken of as they were considered elemental and beyond discussion. It makes for a very exclusive view and group. What happens is if you proclaim your group to be both different and correct when other groups are wrong you by extension also infer that “we” are better. Although there are admonishments to not become arrogant or superior it does still naturally happen. I called this the arrogance of ignorance.

I was not well educated, dropping out of school by grade ten. I had been more interested in making money and buying a nice car. A girlfriend and a strong sex drive with little sex education soon ensured a shotgun wedding. Earning a living, mortgage payments etc. kept me very busy. Soon frustration at being stuck in the rut of menial job and 25 years of house payments lead me to feel sorry for myself and a period of self pity and heavy drinking ensued. My father was an alcoholic and that had always bothered me, now I was becoming the same. Eventually I did what I called “The Walk to the Mirror” and I found out who was causing me these problems. I took stock. I had a beautiful, loving, devoted wife, two perfect kids and good health. I took responsibility for my actions. I quit drinking and have not had one drop of drink for over 31 years. Together with my wife we made several strategic real estate deals and by the age of 25 and my wife at 20, had a debt free, mortgage free life. Next I took the high school equivalency courses and obtained grade 12 certificate.
I had a brand new positive outlook on life. Taking responsibility had empowered me. I had always been looking outside of myself for empowerment not knowing that all change must come from within. I now also had time to luxuriate in the act of thinking.

I had always wondered why our small little obscure religious organization was supposed to be the only “true” church. What about the other 5.999 billion who were not a member of our club? Why they all were condemned to hell? Many of them seemed so nice. Why did a god supposedly make us perfect only to let us fall into sin? What really is sin? Why do all religions claim their god or even their faction to be the correct view and the other’s view incorrect? I had been asking many of these questions for years getting some seemingly valid answers but mostly circular logic that always reverted back to the infallibility of the bible. I was told to have faith, not to question god and just to give in to faith and believe. But all other religions also used all the same circular thinking to validate their views. These competing claims could not all be true!

I needed answers and began reading. A new world opened up to me. It had been there all along but I had been unaware of the possibilities. I devoured literature. Starting with Hemmingway, Michener, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Dumas, Poe, Tolstoy, Homer many of the classics as well as current writers, beat writers, comedy, science even some philosophy. None of it was specifically pro or anti religiousI needed answers and began reading. A new world opened up to me. It had been there all along but I had been unaware of the possibilities. I devoured literature. Starting with Hemmingway, Michener, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Dumas, Poe, Tolstoy, Homer many of the classics as well as current writers, beat writers, comedy, science even some philosophy. None of it was specifically pro or anti religious. On one of the annual home visits that the church does to confirm faith and obedience to the federation, by elders, which had always been a pleasant visit for me, I was asked if I was diligent with my religious studies. I replied that I was reading classic secular literature. I was admonished and strongly warned that this was dangerous. I was indignant but in fact the man was correct. Religion survives because fully 85 percent of the world is lazy, too lazy in fact to think for them selves. The church survives because of this. It seems most people would really like someone to tell them what to think and do. The ultimate responsibility to make reasoned decisions for themselves is too much for them. Most would rather find a nice formulaic, subjective truth with a kind benevolent dictator in charge than to actually think for ourselves. This is how Mr. Jones had hundreds drink the kool-aid in Guyana some years ago.

So that is it actually in a nutshell. I had stumbled upon the principle of Critical Thinking. I did not know it then by that name. I came to realize that the world is not the black and white, right and wrong, all answers are not found in god and the bible as I had been indoctrinated. This was a hard realization to come to. My whole world was wrapped up in the delusions of religion. The sudden understanding that the world is made up of many grey areas. We do not know the answers to many things but we are seeking them. Evolution is true and verifiable. Six days of creation is allegorical at best. The dinosaurs were not just planted in the Badlands of Alberta to test our faith. The Burgess Shale field’s skeletons are worth studying. Gallons of crude oil were not just strategically placed deep in the earth so we could have a 150 year fling with the automobile.

Reason and logic are valid ways of thinking. Empirical evidence is the only way to validate positions. Competing man written “holy” books are all just devises whereby man seeks to control other man. There is no heaven or hell. No amount of praying changes anything. Blasphemy is a victimless crime. Christian education is an oxymoron. There is only religious indoctrination not Christian education. Man does not have a soul which will outlive him. The carrot dangled by religion of an afterlife is only to induce obedience here on earth. The promise of an afterlife is always sold on the basis that life here is evil and rough and always concludes in death unless one has faith. The notion that man can be lured to current behavior by lies only proves that man is inherently greedy and is not satisfied with the statistically 78.2 yrs of life and wants more. I do grant that most religious adherents do lead conservative, reasonably ethic and moral lives. I am insulted though that they believe themselves to have a monopoly on these ideals. They only behave well in life for the dream of future reward. An atheist acts ethically and morally only for the sake of good social order expecting no further reward!

So what is my life like now?

It is a lot quieter for sure. I have no huge groups of superficial friends, also no social responsibilities to a group. Religion took a lot of energy. No god has cursed me or will do so. Santa still brings me too many gifts. My family is healthy and growing. I continue to study and read anything I want without prejudice. I love the idea that I no longer know everything and revel in the fact that I know so little and can study my entire life and still not be truly knowledgeable. I love art and am a prolific amateur painter. I have much satisfaction making and looking at art. It has allowed me stints in Paris and New York. I’ve been to Africa. I was never very materialistic and am even less so now. I celebrate every new day with thankfulness, not to any deity but just pure thankfulness. I am much slower to anger or frustration. I am aging nicely, keeping fit and happy to have a good life with no expectation for anything more. I now know what was always described as sin is merely man’s basic animal instinct of survival. Only good socialization stops us from harming each other and I do my best to contribute to this ideal. I take responsibility for my own actions always. I will die a death like all others by illness, accident, or old age. I will cry out to no god to save me from my destiny.
Life is wonderful and I am grateful for wild the statistical chance that I was even able to be here. Oh yes one final little point. I will have everlasting life! Every atom that currently makes up me has been here on earth for the 3.5 billion years and banning this star imploding will be here with me on it for billions more. As for the big religious meaning of life question? Douglas Adams says it well in his book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Planet. The meaning of life is 42.\

Really though?

There is no great purpose or meaning, its just life. Just be thankful and enjoy it as it will soon be over!