I’ve been MIA for a long time since I have some very annoying problems with wordpress. I realize these are tougher nuts to crack than I thought, so let me jump back in.
Religious people tend to defend religious upbringing (religious child grooming) by saying that it’s something kids want to do and that the parents don’t force them. I many cases, true enough. I’ve heard a lot of you say that you liked church: being with other kids, the fun activities, the singing.
For many of us, though, it isn’t true. Yours truly didn’t want to be in Hebrew School, and for the record, I don’t think many other kids wanted to be there, either.
Religious people: if you say that religion isn’t forced on kids, how do you account for that discrepancy?
As for the rest of youse, did you want to be in religious grooming (Sunday school, Catholic school, Hebrew school, etc), go kicking and screaming, or somewhere in between? What were your experiences?
Poster on a blog about Surviving Catholic School: “I attended Catholic school for a year and I can honestly say I hated every moment. My mom came to my rescue, made the right decision and pulled me out. Long story but…. back then, Catholic school sucked.”
Those of you who read my sample chapter on Janet (which was also published) have read the story of a PK (preacher’s kid) who experienced one of the worst things that could happen to a child. Her father urged her to pray to forgive the man who sexually abused her, something she was not able to do. This was a pivotal moment in her path to atheism.
Ah, the life of a pastor’s kid!
I grew up in Cambridge, Minnesota – a town of 5,000 people and 22 Christian churches. My father was (and still is) pastor of a small church. My mother volunteered to support Christian missionaries around the world.
I went to church, Bible study, and other church functions every week. I prayed often and earnestly. For 12 years I attended a Christian school that taught Bible classes and creation science. I played in worship bands. As a teenager I made trips to China and England to tell the atheists over there about Jesus.
I felt the presence of God. Sometimes I would tingle and sweat with the Holy Spirit. Other times I felt led by Him to give money to a certain cause, or to pay someone a specific compliment, or to walk to the cross at the front of my church and bow before it during a worship service.
Around age 19 I got depressed, But one day I had an epiphany. I realized that everything in nature was a gift from God to me and God delivered me from my depression.
My dad and I read lots of this Christian self-help stuff. We shared our latest discoveries with each other and debated theology.
I moved to Minneapolis for college and was attracted to a Christian group led by Mark van Steenwyk. Mark’s small group of well-educated Jesus-followers were postmodern, “missional” Christians: they thought loving and serving others in the way of Jesus was more important than doctrinal truth. That resonated with me, and we lived it out with the poor immigrants of Minneapolis.
The seeds of doubt
By this time I had little interest in church structure or petty doctrinal disputes. I just wanted to be like Jesus. So I decided I should try to find out who Jesus actually was. I began to study the Historical Jesus.
What I learned, even when reading Christian scholars, shocked me. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, by non-eyewitnesses. They are riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies. Jesus and Paul disagreed on many core issues. And how could I accept the miracle claims about Jesus when I outright rejected other ancient miracle claims as superstitious nonsense?
These discoveries scared me. It was not what I had wanted to learn. But now I had to know the truth. I studied the Historical Jesus, the history of Christianity, the Bible, theology, and the philosophy of religion. Almost everything I read – even the books written by conservative Christians – gave me more reason to doubt, not less.
I started to panic. I felt like my best friend – my source of purpose and happiness and comfort – was dying. And worse, I was killing him. If only I could have faith! If only I could unlearn all these things and just believe. I cried out with the words from Mark 9:24, “Lord, help my unbelief!”
I tried. For every atheist book I read, I read five books by the very best Christian philosophers. The atheists made plain, simple sense, and the Christian philosophers were lost in fog of big words that tried to hide the weakness of their arguments.
I did everything I could to keep my faith. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force myself to believe what I knew wasn’t true. On January 11, 2007, I whispered to myself: “There is no God.”
The next day I emailed my buddy Mark:
I didn’t want to bother you, but I’m lost and despairing and I could really use your help, if you can give it.
I made a historical study of Jesus, which led me to a study of the Bible, historical and philosophical arguments for and against God, atheist arguments, etc. It has destroyed my faith. I think there is almost certainly not a God…
I’m fucking miserable… I told my parents and they sobbed for 30 minutes. Can you help me?
As always, Mark responded with love and honesty. But he didn’t give me any reasons to believe. He said he believed mostly for the “aesthetics of belief” and his “somewhat mystical experiences of Christ.” He wrote, “In a way, I am a Christian because I want to be one, and the logic flows from there.”
I also wrote a defiant email to an atheist radio show host to whom I’d been listening, Matt Dillahunty:
I was coming from a lifetime high of surrendering… my life to Jesus, releasing myself from all cares and worries, and filling myself and others with love. Then I began an investigation of the historical Jesus… and since then I’ve been absolutely miserable. I do not think I am strong enough to be an atheist. Or brave enough. I have a broken leg, and my life is much better with a crutch… I’m going to seek genuine experience with God, to commune with God, and to reinforce my faith. I am going to avoid solid atheist arguments, because they are too compelling and cause for despair. I do not WANT to live in an empty, cold, ultimately purposeless universe in which I am worthless and inherently alone.
I hope that I find a real, true God in my journey of blind faith. I do not need to convince you of that God, since you seem satisfied as an atheist. But I need to convince myself of that God.
Matt responded to my every sentence with care, understanding, and reason. But I still tried to hang onto my faith. For a while I read nothing but Christian authors. Even the smartest ones just made lots of noise about “the mystery of God.” They used big words so that it sounded like they were saying something precise and convincing.
My dad told me I had been led astray because I was arrogant to think I could get to truth by studying. Humbled and encouraged, I started a new quest to find God. I wrote on my blog:
I’ve been humbled. I was “doing discipleship” in my own strength, because I thought I was smart enough and disciplined enough. [Now] having surrendered my prideful and independent ways to him, I can see how my weakness is God’s strength.
I’ve repented. I was deceived because I did not let the Spirit lead me into truth. Now I ask for God’s guidance in all quests for knowledge and wisdom.
I feel like I’ve been born again, again.
It didn’t last. Every time I reached out for some reason – any reason – to believe, God simply wasn’t there. I tried to believe despite the evidence, but I couldn’t believe a lie. Not anymore.
No matter how much I missed him, I couldn’t bring Jesus back to life.
I don’t recall how it happened, but eventually I found out that I could be more happy and moral without God than I ever was with him. I “came out” as an atheist to my family, friends, and church. They were surprised, but they still loved me. They were much more concerned when two elders of my church decided they were Catholic. I bonded with them briefly because the three of us were suddenly outcasts.
I had stubbornly resisted my deconversion, but these days I am excited to accept reality, no matter what it is. I remember when I finally realized the problems inherent to my precious Libertarianism. I was not dismayed or resistant; I was thrilled.
This comfort with truth unleashed my curiosity about Christianity and religion in full force. In my studies I uncovered lots of false facts and dishonest arguments from Christians and atheists. Each discovery only deepened my hunger for knowledge, but also my realization that humans know very little, and with little certainty.
Looking back, I feel lucky that I left God for purely rational reasons instead of emotional ones. Indeed, all my emotions were pushing the other way.
But that’s probably not the norm. I bet most atheists today have lost their faith for irrational, emotional reasons – or else they were raised as atheists. When I went to the premiere of Bill Maher’s Religulous – one of the few blatantly atheist films released in America – almost the entire crowd was gay. I remember thinking they were probably atheists because the church rejected them, not because they knew the logical fallacies of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
In many ways I regret my Christian upbringing. So much time and energy wasted on an invisible friend. So many bad lessons about morality, thinking, and sex. So much needless guilt.
But mostly I’m glad this is my story. Now I know what it’s like to be a true believer. I know what it’s like to fall in love with God and serve him with all my heart. I know what’s it like to experience his presence.
I know what it’s like to isolate one part of my life from reason or evidence, and I know what it’s like to think that is a virtue. I know what it’s like to earnestly seek the truth but still be totally deluded.
I know what it’s like to think that what I believe, or what my loving pastor says, or what my ancient book says, is more true than what reason and evidence say. I know what it’s like to think faith is a strength, not a gullible weakness.
I know what it’s like to be confused by the Trinity, the failure of prayers, or Biblical contradictions but to genuinely embrace them as the mystery of God. I know what it’s like to believe God is so far beyond human reason that we can’t understand him, but at the same time to fiercely believe I know the details of how he wants us to behave.
That was my experience for 22 years, and I am grateful for it. Now I can approach believers with true understanding.
One of the things that struck me most reading this was when Luke wrote that he didn’t have the strength to be an atheist at first. This reminds me of two friends: one, a somewhat-religious Jew (read: looks for loopholes) told me that he would be an agnostic were he honest with himself, but didn’t want to be cut off from the community.
I reminded him that a) he had many friends and loved ones that weren’t religious Jews or at least wouldn’t shun him, and b) we weren’t living in the ancient Middle East when being shunned was a death sentence.
Another friend, who is superstitious and Catholic (talk about living a stereotype) told me once that it was harder to believe in God than to not believe. I said, “I love you, but you are just wrong! Of course it’s easier to go with the flow and do what’s expected of you. Do you know how hard it can be to go against the status quo, and how non-believers risk being hated? If it were easier to not believe, not many people would believe.”
Here I am doing comedy in the talent show at The Amazing Meeting, James Randi’s skeptic convention.
Here in the Not My God penthouse, I focus on stories of atheists that are particularly difficult and moving for the purposes of illustration and because this obviously makes for a more interesting book. So if anyone out there thinks I cherry-pick the extremes, yes, I am, but that’s sort of the point.
I found this story on Dawkins’s Converts Corner.
“For many years I was a victim of religious child abuse without realizing and it took me a long time to be able to escape from the psychological terrorism of the Catholic church.
“Nowadays I’m an animation filmmaker and visual storyteller. Recently I started to work on a little personal project about overcoming the fear of hell. It evolved into a sweet non-religious book about tolerance and more than anything it helped me heal some scars from my childhood days.
“I thought I would keep that little project to myself but all that changed after reading ‘The God Delusion.’ The moment I read the chapter on child abuse I became determined to share the little fable to the world. The book is ‘I’m Not a Little Devil,’ part of what I hope will become a storytelling movement that explores the negative consequences that religion has on young kids. So far the response has been very positive. I wanted to thank you guys for inspiring me to put this tale out to the world and I hope you help me spread the word of it. A future world with no religion is in the hands of children. I definitely hope this book contributes to that change.
I’m hearing a lot about how the Catholic priests “only” abuse children as often as anyone else. Whether that is true or not, and I tend to doubt this because of the vow to celibacy required, the church’s greater sin in sheltering child rapists is almost as bad as the rape itself.
Even if the priests are no more likely to abuse children than anyone else, for such a thing to happen in the realm of religion somehow makes this a much worse crime. Survivors could easily think god sanctioned this abuse, for example.
As to Hell, it’s at times like this I’m glad I was raised Jewish: no hell. No fear of hell.
Andy my beau told me about when he was a kid taking his first communion and vomited the communion wafer. Eerily prophetic.
Perhaps we’ve all vomited a communion wafer in the figurative sense. To paraphrase Homer Simpson’s “crayon up the nose” speech, maybe it’s a wafer made from irrationality, or hatred, or cruelty, or abuse, or annoyance. I used the analogy that my mother force-fed me religion until I threw up.
Over and over, hearing people’s stories, I see this theme. This is particularly salient in recovering Catholics who have left their faith due to the trend of priests raping children and the Church protecting the rapists.
Even though Not My God is about the atheist experience in the U.S., I found this story from a Brit, Gary Roberts, on Coming Out Godless very stirring.
“I remember, one time, lying on the bed beside my mother as she rested during the day—and as Jesus, Mary and Joseph stared down at us from her bedroom wall. I was about 8 or 9 years old and we were talking about baptism, the bible and the Catholic faith. I asked her what would’ve happened to all those people born throughout history before the coming of Christ. I was surprised to hear her say that these people—which included innocent children and babies—could never attain salvation, simply because they hadn’t been baptised into the Christian faith. I’m not a hundred per cent sure if this was actually true according to the Church’s teachings or not, but I remember how horrified I felt for those unlucky, unbaptised masses. I tried putting forward naive arguments, such as its not being their fault they were born when they were, before the coming of Christ; or that they may have led good, honest lives.
But my pleas on their behalf just didn’t cut the mustard—these people were toast.
I believe that was a major moral crossroads in my life, one which led to scepticism regarding the tenets of not just Catholicism, but any religion.”
What made you vomit?
I’ll write a post of my own in a couple of days, but I wanted to share this from my friend, John, a mathematician. He writes:
Thomas Paine in the second part of “Age of Reason” says that in Genesis, three days and nights passed before God created the Sun, where it is the Sun that creates days and nights with its presence. I agree with the guy that this is but one of the contradictions that all churches make unto themselves.
The book of Job says that the Devil and God are hanging out chillin’ when the Devil says Job loves God because God gives Job things, and Job would hate God if God took everything away. God says, “Oh yeah? You’re wrong. I’ll prove it.” God then takes away Job’s things and Job still loves God. Yet if God really were all powerful, he would never fall for the mind games of a schmuck like the Devil, and he would know Job would still love him if he were truly all knowing. The Bible contradicts itself thusly.
Catholic missionaries condemn tribal natives for worshiping trees and such while they turn around and worship an old man who lives in a cloud and has magical powers. What up wit dat?
And the Simpsons approach, Jesus should be able to microwave a burrito so hot he himself could not eat it because he can do anything. But then he wouldn’t be able to eat the burrito when he should be able to do anything. Paradox complete.
The Earth is 6000 years old and dinosaurs existed alongside man, but science shows the earth is 4.5 billon years old, which goes to prove Sarah Palin is a douchebag.
As you can see, logic prevents anyone from being religious when logic is thought about regarding religious matters. This means religious people are illogical and shoo away logic like plague carrying rats. This makes them stupid and easily corrupted by religious officials.
Anyway, I’m sure there are more musings than I can unlock at once, I’ll try to remember to keep you updated. Now on to my story.
This October 12, my brother got married (please hold your applause). His bride is from a Catholic family, so the wedding was in a church, performed by a deacon. (They tried to get a priest, but they all made excuses not to do it; I know they are fake excuses because they all were given more than a year before the wedding. I still think a priest would have done the wedding if my brother and sister in law promised the priest their first born son.) When I first went into a church, all I could think of was how as an atheist, I was going to melt upon attempting entry. As I didn’t melt and as how I would offend God if God existed, God ergo does not exist. I wasn’t the only one thinking this of themselves, by the way.For the wedding rehearsal, the Deacon gathered everyone around and told them to bow heads while he uttered a prayer thanking God for the glorious day. I did no such thing and instead looked around at others. The Catholics were obedient, as all dumbass religious people (this is redundant) are. Some were doing it half assed. I was thinking to myself, “Dumbass” the whole time. He was a nice guy, though.
While the rehearsal was going on, I stayed in back, playing “Yu-gi-oh GX Tag Force 2″ on my PSP. Mmm, blasphemy. If there were a god, he would undoubtedly strike me down for offending him in a church.
During the ceremony, there was psalm reading and religious utterings that filled me with placid rage. Then the deacon told everyone to stand up and extend a hand towards the couple to bless the marriage with love and tenderness and God’s love. Everyone did this except for myself (and babies in attendance). I extended a claw-like hand in much the same manner that a burn victim literally falling apart might reach out. I was thinking, “Oh my God, pardon, oh my science, what is wrong with these retards to do this crap?” Interestingly enough, my brother said to me afterwards that he didn’t feel my power blessing him. That’s not proof of God; that’s coincidence. Plus, I’m a dick anyway, so it was easily predicted. It’s called Probability; I took it in college so I would know.
For gifts, I got my sister in law a Hello Kitty alarm clock/radio/nightlight. It depicts Hello Kitty asleep in a bed. I got it because she likes Hello Kitty very much and to irk my brother over it. Mission accomplished. I got him beer. Why would God, if existing, allow such a grievous offense of a holy day by giving beer as a present? They wouldn’t, ergo there is no such thing as God. Plus, it helps him deal with the Hello Kitty Clock.
Just kidding. This is Not My God, a site for the personal aspect of atheism. I'm putting together a book with that title, having already 20 interviews lined up, but I still want to hear from more of you.
I've expanded the blog to include material not related to atheism, including rants, raves, consumer issues, curmudgeonly matters and other miscellany.
Read more about Not My God on the About page
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