Every year after my birthday, I try to reassess my life. I write down this reassessment so I can read it. I’ve found my memory slants things in my favor and only by writing down my thoughts can I later be sure of exactly what I was thinking at the time. So this post is primarily for me, put out publicly for anyone who might be interested. In essence, I’m reintroducing myself to myself. If you want to get to know me again, this would be a good thing for you to read, if you don’t there won’t be much you haven’t heard already.
I spent most of my life with what you might call a divided self. To some people, I was a good and serious Christian, to others I was a very liberal Christian, to myself I could be either of those two, but there was also a private life hidden from both my serious Christian friends and my nominally Christian friends. There were two parts to this private life as well: there was young man that desired nothing but the satiation of the flesh, and finally caught in the tension of all of this and man who truly hated his very life, and struggled constantly to avoid physical self harm and deep feelings of worthlessness. I was deeply ashamed that I, a Christian felt that way and struggled as much to keep people from finding out how I felt like trash as I did to overcome those feelings.
It made for a complicated life. I thought my parents were the greatest parents on earth and I loved them. At the same time, sometimes I hated them so much it was purely my fear of the punishment of God for disobeying them that kept me at home much past my 16th birthday. If I was going to choose one word to describe my young adult and adult years it would “confused”. I was never sure who was the real me: the serious Christian, the liberal Christian, the sex freak, or person who was prevented from suicide purely because whenever he put a gun to his head he saw his family around his hospital bed as he was in a vegetative state, clucking their tongues and saying “Couldn’t even get that right, could you?”
I was always on the look out for someone who had the answer of how to live the Christian life. I wanted to truly be a Christian more than anything on earth. Adolescent angst turned into adult depression. Frequently, I would wake up before my alarm went off and stare at the ceiling trying to will myself into facing another day of failing to be the man I was supposed to be. Usually I could. Sometimes I could not, and it cost me more then one job.
This would lead me to join a radical Pentecostal group who claimed to have a corner on knowing God. Some would call the group cult-like, and perhaps it was but, in the end it was good for me. For the first time in my life I was honest with people about the feelings I had about myself and others. There was an enormous rush to being that intimate with people emotionally. The feeling, though sexless, is not entirely unlike the feeling of being courted. (I’ve talked to a few cult survivors who say this remains a feature of their live that they now miss.) When the novelty of those wonderful feeling wore off however, I was largely the same person. This became an increasing source of frustration. Further, the church talked a very radical, revolutionary game, but when I started to ask hard questions about when this so called revolution would start, I was ostracized.
A pivotal moment in all of this, was falling in love with my wife’s best friend. Of course, being 24 and her being 22, part of these love feelings including an intense and acute desire to make love to her. Which at first, made me hate myself more then I knew was possible. It would hardly seem that this could work for good? But it did. Through long conversations with my wife about my feelings, we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t feelings that were wrong but the actions you took with them. That being the case, I just ignored the sex drive and enjoyed loving someone. Always I had seen my desire for sex with a woman I was not married to as sick and twisted, and myself as perverse for having such feelings. Now, I accepted those feelings and enjoyed them but chose not to act on them. This was the beginning of a life of much less self hatred.
This new life of believing that I was worthy of love changed what I expected from a church. I now wanted to be treated as a peer. This didn’t sit well with the somewhat cult-like church we went to. The last straw was when I quit my job (to avoid temptation, long story) and no one would help us. Further, I was reading the Bible as a whole document looking for the whole story rather then reading individual passages to see what I could make it say. Our church wasn’t even close.
We had moved to the inner city to be closer to the people we were supposed to be saving. I sat on the stoop listening to the gun fire and the sirens. I realized that every stupid thing I had ever done was because I thought someone besides me would take care of me, yet here I was unemployed in the projects of Kansas City. I had a high enough ACT score to get into MIT and I was waiting tables and living three doors down from a crack house.
I decided I would start taking care of myself, and that such a thing would glorify God. I also still wanted to help people in the inner city, and it looked to me (after 2 years of hearing about transformation that I never saw) that hard working people getting money into the crappy schools would go a lot farther then prayer meetings.
I joined the Air Force (same pay as the other branches but least chance of getting shot and most time at home). I joined a very sincere Christian who had reached one simple conclusion: If one was going to consistent with ALL of scripture instead of just the parts they liked, then God was a radically different person then most people thought.
It’s unfortunate in many ways that I deconverted after joining, because I think a lot of people have the idea the military experience is what made me an atheist. Not at all. I joined, as I said, primarily to make enough money to make a difference. I came into the military a Christian. It was not the Air Force life that deconverted me but careful study of Scripture and the history of the early church.
That study lead me to believe that one of three things must be true (1.) There is no God. (2.) There is a God but he actively hides from those who seek him (3.) There is a God and I personally can see no evidence because he doesn’t want me to. In any of those three cases, this life on earth is the highpoint of my existence as I am either bound toward nothing or hell.
Logic says to believe the idea which requires the least invention to work. I could invent a God that cannot be found with the scientific method, or say there is no God. I chose no God. I prayed a final prayer, “Lord if you are real, I came to this conclusion with the brain you gave me and the best facts I could get. If you are real and I am wrong, then please keep my daughter and don’t hold my sin against her. I’m going to be true to myself and admit I don’t see you.”
After this, everything got better. (A subject I have blogged on extensively.) I didn’t ache inside because I wasn’t failing anymore. I stopped pretending I was a Christian, so now I had one kind of friends: the kind that liked me for me. Three months later, I woke up and was getting ready for work. I felt strange and it took me some reflection to realize why: I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up so depressed that I couldn’t go to work.
I didn’t immediately “come out” as an atheist. In my life I have been many things and what I am really excited about today is not something that will necessarily have great meaning to me in 6 months or a year or 5 years. I quietly worked out things. One of the things I really struggled with was the meaning of life in the absence of God. Christianity is a pre-packaged world view, the paradigm equivalent of a Lunchable. Atheism is merely a theology. Eventually, two things would move me. The first was existentialism. Sadly, since most existentialists are big philosophy geeks, existentialism has a huge image problem. Existentialism does not say that life is meaningless (that would be nihilism), on the contrary existentialism says life can have great purpose: the purpose you give to it.
This helped me understand some of the great confusions of my life. What meaning did my relationships have? The meaning I chose to give them. Guilt I had carried over an ex-fiance for years melted away. But what of the indifferent universe that I now believed I lived in? Well, when I spoke of this to the very wise Doctor Karen Stollznow, she said, Israel, rocks and trees may be indifferent, but we as humans are generally surrounded by human beings who are as authentic parts of this universe as the sun or the earth. Because people can make the choice to care, the universe is not indifferent.
During this period (around this time last year) I began to really hate my parents. I was profoundly bitter with Christianity and I blamed my parents for raising me in it. That was stupid. We’ve talked since and worked it out largely. Though not bitter, I remain slightly miffed at Christianity. I’m 29 years old and it has only been the last few years that I have had a normal sexual relationship. I’ve been in a sexual relationship since I was 22, however it wasn’t normal or healthy until fairly recently as atheism and existentialism helped me come to healthy view about myself. Sex is not very important to some people and incredibly important to others. I am the latter, and it irritates me that I spent the first 25 years of my life when unhealthy, ineffective thoughts and actions regarding sex because of Christianity.
A note here, when I say “Christianity” I am not referring to a code of ethics based on the Gospels, but the unique expression of American, politically conservative protestantism as I understood it. I have talked to many people since deconverting that managed to believe psychologically healthy things as well as Christianity. They managed to believe everything I do, yet do so with a paradoxical belief largely at odds with scripture. More power to them, I’m not mad at them anymore either. (For awhile I was jealous of their ability to keep all the pleasant trapping of Christianity without the madness, but I’ve come to accept that they can do it and I can’t)
This is largely the complete story of how I got to where I am. Next post I will tell you myself (and you all) where here is.
The trip had begun like most of our church youth group trips had, with me working on the 1970-too old, Dodge Crap-O-Van. Was it a new water pump that time or a bad alternator? I can’t remember. I do remember the crunch of gravel under my feet and the singing of the cicadas from the church parking lot’s only tree, so I know it was in August. I remember praying to God for the strength to get through the whole repair without using sinful language, but I prayed that prayer frequently working on old vans.
I can’t remember what the trip was for, either. Were we going to some Bible college? A Christian rock concert? Or was it the trip to Denver where we spent two weeks doing vacation Bible school puppet shows? It’s been so long since then, but those youth groups trips were incredibly important to me, at the time. My father’s post traumatic stress and my mother’s agoraphobia created a home where friends weren’t very welcome. We lived deep in the cornfields, where dad could shoot paper targets until the fear went away and mom could drink in the sun and trees until the strain of normal life was lifted. I came of age not at school, not hanging out with my friends, but at Bible camp, in Sunday school, and on the sticky vinyl seats of our church’s 15 passenger van.
For whatever reason we’d gone, I will never forget the trip back. We were exhausted, and all of us were fading in and out of sleep. The engine was a continuous roar, drowning out conversation and the tires droned out a hypnotic hum down the interstate. I was in the first passenger seat, in the middle between several thousand dollars of sound equipment on the right, and Darcy Trigg was on my left. I laid my head against the cold, hard fiberglass of the roadie boxes, and closed my eyes.
We hit bump and I awoke, conscious only of scratchiness across my face. I moved my hand up to the scratchiness, and confusingly found something soft and warm. The fog of sleep clearing, I realized that in my sleep I had turned away from the hard case, and turned instead to Darcy. My eyes fluttered open, and I froze. The scratchiness was the collar of Darcy’s sweater, stretching across my face from chin to widows peak. Not only had I turned to her in my sleep, I had laid my head on her chest and slid down. One eye looked down the front of her sweater, but the other was on the inside, her ample breasts and white satin bra, cast a warm pink by the sunlight shinning through her top.
She must be asleep, I thought, and there is no way, that if she wakes up she is going to believe this is an accident. She’s going to to know what a disgusting pervert I am, and no girl will ever talk to me again…I will be “that guy.” I closed my eyes, and very carefully and very slowly moved away, sitting perfectly straight, and not opening my eyes until I was in a position to stare straight ahead. Then, and only then, did I slowly turn my head to Darcy.
Her chin was in her left hand, her elbow on the window sill, watching the cornfields shoot by. She’d been awake the whole time! Clearly she hadn’t pushed me off or woken me because she was mortified with embarrassment. I was so ashamed, and yet I didn’t want Darcy to think that I thought she was ugly. I wanted to say that I thought she was beautiful but at the same time I was terrible sorry for violating her. My mouth was dry and I felt shaky.
“Darcy..” I whispered loud enough for her to hear, but too quiet to carry over the road noise to any other listening ears, and leaned towards her for greater privacy.
“I…I was asleep…I…didn’t…” I stammered.
She turned to me slowly, her eyes big and kind, bashful from underneath her brow, a slight smile upon her lips. She leaned toward me, closing the space between us I’d made by sitting up straight, and laid her hand on my knee.
“I didn’t mind,” she said softly. She searched my eyes, her serenity and kindness pitying my confusion and fear. Squeezing my knee, she sighed contentedly and returned to watching the landscape out the window, giving me a last over-the-shoulder smile.
I sat in total confusion. Darcy was the kindest, most gentle soul I knew at the time. Growing up in a world that divided women into nice girls and sluts, Darcy’s credentials as a nice girl were impeccable. She was quiet, demure, modest, and serious. She knew the Word, and walked the walk…and she told me that I had done nothing wrong and she enjoyed me having my face down her shirt. I realized then that maybe good girls did want to be kissed, held, and touched. Maybe, just maybe, good girls might have sex drive, and maybe a girl could want me, the geeky guy with the thick glasses, because I was OK, and not because she was screwed up.
Every kid wants to be a hero. We all ran around the house with a bath towel cape at one point, thwarting our imaginary nemesis, enlisting an annoying little sibling or long suffering family dog for our trusty sidekick. At some point, we lose the towel and the spider-man underoos but for at least few the dream never dies. Some us do grow up to be everyday heroes: firemen, cops, EMTs, etc., but most of us don’t. We go to college or get a good union job in the local factory and with time we stop thinking that we sold out. We change our definition of success until the daily grind meets it.
For me the desire to do something great and noble that I could truly be proud of never left me. I believed in a great story, written by the unerring hand of God and that God had a role for me in his unfolding drama. God was the decider of human affairs. If I was to amount to anything in this world, it would be by the hand of God. I’ve been a very relational person my entire life, always aware of my emotions and the emotions of others. I could be carried up to the heavens with a single compliment or beaten down with a single harsh word. However, I had deep sensitivity to reality, an almost hyper-awareness of how feeling that something is true does not make it true. I poured myself into Christianity because it was the only context I had for greatness.
Adolescence didn’t cure me of these thoughts, but it did change me in two ways that weren’t compatible with Christianity. First, I became sexually aware. I thought about sex constantly and frequently while masturbating. Also, I began to struggle with occasionally despondency. God’s commands about sex and sexual fantasy are clearly withing marriage, and a Christian should be full of peace and joy, even in the midst of anguish, echoing Job’s “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be his name.” Relational as I way, this deeply concerned me. Love is shown in actions, sin “nails Christ to the cross again” so every time I was lusting I was hurting my friend and savior. I wanted a girlfriend and friends, and had none and few respectively. Christianity teaches that ones relationship with God is the fount from which all relationships flow, so when I was hurt, and lonely, and blue my pain was magnified by my additional failure to be totally content with God.
When high school was over, I was a full blown neurotic. The only thing I knew that I wanted to do with my life was to be great. I had heard college was full of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll. To me, my inability to shut off my sexual desire showed my lack of self control. I knew the guilt that I would feel if I partied and slept with strangers, and out of fear of suicide in response, I went to Bible college instead.
Like so many young men away from home for the first time, the next part of my story begins with “So, I met this girl.” She was a little blond butterfly, social, friendly, and bouncy. I was so proud that she would even talk to me. At the same time, sensitive as I was, I knew she’d be hurt badly, torn apart inside. I could see it on her like a shadow. Now in part I pursed her because she was cute, in part because she was aching. And I pursued because she was wounded in part because I wanted to help her, but in part because I hated myself. I thought I was trash, and thought when she realized what a filthy, disgusting person I was, only if she was desperate for man, only if she was broken inside, would she not leave me.
However, in the end, I broke up with her, believing her not to be a part of God’s plan for my life. I came home, and got a crappy job, followed by some random college classes. This became a pattern: work pointless jobs and fail out of college classes. I worked talentless, pointless jobs for almost nothing. I did it for two reasons. First, because I believed this was my path to greatness, from the lowly and humble to the top of the company by hard work and godly decisions making. The other reason I believed this was because I still thought I was trash. I needed approval so badly and handled rejection so poorly that I took jobs any sane person would have turned down, because only when my peers were drug addicts, the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill did I feel I was appreciated enough in comparison.
During this time, I met the woman I am now married to. We did marry for love, but alloying that love was lot of desperation. For sex on my part and to get started having babies-for-Jesus on hers. I failed out college a last time, saying God needed me somewhere else, not that I hadn’t been proactive enough with my advisers about my needs as a student. We were called to an inner city mission in Kansas City. The pain of previous failure would be worth it when we got to partner with God to save the city from Darkness. My daughter was born.
We went to that inner city saving church for 2 years. In many ways they were good years, but in the end, the church was a lot more interested in feeling like they were changing the world then changing it. Also the work environment I was in was filled with pornography, dirty stories, drugs, and cursing. To obey God and flee temptation, I quit my job, fully expecting God to give me a job that paid better, perhaps one SO nice, we wouldn’t have to take welfare anymore. The whole church prayed for us, but no one would help us.
Needing to hear that I had done the right thing, I called my brother, a pastor. He called me a fool and said that I was a failure as a father and husband. I hung up the phone and sobbed like a little girl for three hours. When I could breathe again, I walked outside and sat on the porch. I looked at the clean new Cadillacs and broken beer bottles. I watched the drug dealers and the prostitutes mingle. I thought of my little girl upstairs. And the weight of it hit me. I was twenty five years old. My life was a third over and I had shat it all away.
In the words of Social Distortion “Well I’ve searched and I’ve searched/To find the perfect life/A brand new car and a brand new suit/I even got me a little wife/But wherever I have gone/I was sure to find myself there/You can run all your life/But not go anywhere.” It was all my fault. I had done this all to myself. I was everything that Christianity said I was supposed be, possessing all the values that the Bible said I should have. I had lived in constant, slow, misery trying to find my place in God’s plan. I said out loud “American Christianity is a black hole. It’s never going to change anything. I’m going to find God on my own, and I am never trusting anyone else to take care of me or my family again. I’m never taking anyone’s word on what Truth is again, because the people that told me to obey God are sitting on their asses with good jobs and safe homes and I am sitting in fucking hole with loaded shotgun behind the door.” Three months later, the Air Force paid me for the privilege of moving all of my belongings to a prestigious a training school in Southern California.
I kept a promise to myself to truly understand scripture on my own. I read the Bible cover to cover and investigated the history of the early church. A child could tell you it’s all just make believe. I didn’t make the cut in the 95% fail rate program, and for the first time in my life, the failure didn’t crush me because I didn’t care. I’d made my decision, I’d done my best. I took another career in the Air Force. I studied more and more about the Bible and began to study the things the Bible had argued with science. Science won.
And then I told my dear sweet wife, the one who had married me to raise sweet little Christian children with that I was atheist. It broke her heart. She would not have married me 5 years previous if I had been an atheist. I told her she could leave me, if she wanted a divorce I would give her one and she could have any portion of my income she wanted as long as I got to keep my daughter with me. She declined, and instead we began to get to know each other. And she fell in love again with the new me. The me that didn’t think it was sin to sleep with other women, but chose her anyway.
And with time, the questions she had always had about Christianity became insurmountable to her. She progressed from Deist, to agnostic, to atheist. For the first time in our lives, our future was what we made of it, not what our God ordained leaders said it was, not what the Bible said it should be, not what the Church said it was. Our future was whatever we made it to be. We worked our asses off. We got out of debt, became full time students, and began saving money. We started writing our own story.
That’s the key to atheism. I’m not a nihilist; I don’t think life has no meaning. I’m an existentialist. I think my life has the meaning I give it. For the first time in my life I am writing my own story. The things I did, the things I valued never belonged to me. Atheism has not cured me of occasionally struggling with despondency or even the rare depression I fall into. Importantly, neither did Christianity. Atheism gives me the freedom to accept occasional bouts of blue funk without feeling like a moral failure. Nor does atheism require to me to reject my emotional sensitivity and relational orientation as not manly enough. It takes away the right for others to tell me the best way to be…me.
Am I happy? Yes and no. As I said, atheism and existentialism have not cured me of situational depression or high strungness. What is had cured is my belief that I need to be cured of my own identifying characteristics . I will make no apologies for what I am anymore, and ultimately, being content with who I am is a long way toward happiness. My whole life I wanted to do something great, something noble, something worth remembering. Now, I am. I am making something wonderful: me.
I am worth working on. And starting from that single point, my dreams matter and are worth making real.
I like to invent things (even if only on paper) and I do so in spurts of enthusiam for different things. For the last year or so, my enthusiam has been about religion and government.
General, cultural Christianity as well as my personal upbringing, instilled in me the paradoxical idea that government is (omnipresent) God in abstentia, along with some other conflicting ideas like freedom being a gift from God, but only for good people not for undesirables like homosexuals or the inner-city poor. These ideas were among the many that burned off like fog in the sun when I de-converted.
But it left me with a ticklish problem. If the purpose of government wasn’t the “or else” in the statement “Obey God’s rules, or else!” what was it? I studied different ideologies and rejected them one by one. Some ideologies contained more truth than others, but ultimately I found a lot of them were based on false premises, and unconfirmable or unconfirmed data.
Since I’ve been fascinated by revolutionary movements since I was child (When I was 9, I planned out an eloborate and violent coup of my school giving it up not out of moral qualms but because I realized ultimately, any resistance I offered adults would not result in children being granted our constititional rights, but serve as pretext to steal the few we had.) I had decent working knowledge of revolutionary movements, further enhanced by some pretty hard reveiw of revoltionary movements I undertook to offer advice to my so called “revolutionary church”.
This knowledge served me well, as world history is the story of the revolutionary movements that worked. Even within the scope of revolutions that effectively won, most revolutionary movements struggle enormously with the task of switching from David to Goliath.
War represents a reversal of normal values. Normally killing people and taking their stuff is socially condemned, in war, it is applauded. Civil war is worse because it is more specific. Normally killing your neighbor is socially condemned, in civil war, it is applauded. The same key that increases a revolutionary movements’ chance to succeed increases the revolutionary movements’ chance to successfully transition for revolutionary movement to rule. That key is how the members respond to the entrenched ideology of the existing government.
People gather together around ideologies, from NASCAR tailgating parties, to the ritual cannibalism of the Eucharist. If a revolutionary movement gathers under hating the existing system, it is gathering around hate and no change of system will change the organized , systemic, rage. Most likely the hate will destroy unit discipline within the revolutionary cabal and it will collapse into organized crime and terrorism. (Al-qaeda and the Tamil Tigers). Should the the hate-based group stay organized under a strong and ruthless leader (such as Lenin) as well as defeat the existing government, it will transition to power by entrenching the existing system at the point of a gun. This is why so many revolutionary movements become everything they abhor.
Contrariwise, if a revolutionary movement gathers around the postive change that it wants to make, it can often become a competeing voice in the existing system, growing in legitimacy and power. Should it succesfully overthrow the incumbent government, it has a post-revolution plan. Since the people revolting were gathered around something besides destruction they tend to have better idea of what to do with power once they have it. For an object lesson on this, juxtipose the American to the French revolution.
The government classes I had studied as outstanding young Christian gentleman were centered on what was wrong with the existant American system. They offered no plan, no system, no roadmap for post-change improvement. It was believed, I think, that no roadmap was nessisary. When things were “made right” God would magically make everything work. Question: Why did terrorists attack? Answer: Because we we’re too soft on queers and babykillers. When we stopped allowing shows like “Will and Grace” to be broadcast and made abortion illegal, or at worst difficult to get, then the terrorism situation would improve in the total absence of systemic change.
So I addressed my desire to understand government, and the flaws I percieved in various ideolgeous by trying to invent a new government. I won’t make any argument against the componants of the existant system until I can offer a better peice. Not a peice I feel better about, mind you, but one that does the componants’ function better.
And finally, it must be remembered we speak of a system here. By definition, systems are interconnected. If 3 foot rail gauge is better than Standard for a rail system, you can’t make one line narrow gauge and expect improvement. Systems must be integrated fully to function at all. Thus, I can’t offer a single better peice to governmental theory. In the absence of total systemic improvement, individual peicemeal improvements are actively destructive.
I’m trying to invent a whole new government from the ground up, with consistancy and reason throughout. It’s the largest, and most encompassing inventing I’ve tried.
Happiness is a funny thing.
It’s so transient. Today was my last day on 60+ hour weeks. My box of bike goods arrived, and my new duty time is 0630. So I will be riding my bike to work again. I will be seeing my family again. I am getting rid of my little Panda. (I liked the Panda, it was a fine little car, but I’ve learned all I can from it. I’d like to have small car that I can hot rod a bit, and if I fix up the Panda I’ll have the world’s fastests P.O.S.) I’m getting a used Volvo V90. I’m putting it on finance to work up my credit score, though I could afford to buy it in cash.
Everything is working out my way for the first time in awhile, and today I am happy. I thought for a moment that I sort of missed being able to thank God. But then the one sidedness of that relationship came back to me.
I think I would still be religious if it was OK to get angry at God. I had a great day today, and I wouldn’t mind thanking God for it if when at some point in the future, when I have lousy, lousy day I could be pissy at God. I mean if a good day is His fault, then a bad day is too right? He’s either Lord of all or He’s not.
But no, bad days were always somehow my fault. Even if I didn’t cause the ‘badness’, I was sinning by not blessing God in a bad situation. I was sinning by doubting, sinning by having such a poor attitude, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Today I am happy. Sometime, sooner than later, I won’t be. Crap happens. While I am happy I will celebrate with my loved ones. When I am sad, I will be sad with my loved ones. No fault, no failure, no blame. Life is so much simpler and more peaceful as a spiritual atheist than as a Christian.
An atheist is person who does not find compelling reason to accept the God hypothesis. De-converts are special, I think, because most of us became atheists not because we disbelieved in God, but because we believed so much. One cannot be disappointed by a fictional character. The God hypothesis broke our hearts because we believed it, not because we doubted it. I searched out God. I looked for him desperately, searched the Scriptures, searched the great works of Christian literature, searched everything, everywhere for God. Because I believed God to be real, his enormous contradictions of character and schizophrenic mood swings terrified me. I began to increasingly doubt that God was real. There didn’t seem to be objective evidence for him. With all the blessings of God which relate to material things, (healing for instance) there should be objective measures of Christian health which would prove this blessing, and thus serve as objective proof of God. Yet there was none. If fact, the more I thought about it, the more Christians were just like everyone else, showing no blessing that made them special.
I decided that to heal my flagging faith I would read the Bible again, cover to cover. I wanted to do it in a short time, so that I could remember my thoughts from the beginning when I got to end. I read it in 3 months. But instead of healing my faith, it shredded it. When the Bible is read as a continuous narrative, not dissected bit by bit into numerous sermons, the full humanity and the total lack of the divine cries out in every page. The Bible, when read like a book, instead of read with the assumption that it is the book of God, it is indeed just another book. Desperate to believe in God, I decided that perhaps the Bible had been corrupted. I began to search out the history of the Bible itself. Again, nothing relating to the canonicity of the Bible gave me any compelling reason to believe in God. I told myself this was because of God’s deep seated love of freewill. He allowed errors in because he loved freewill so much he would let his perfect message get lost. I began to search out the history of the early church, hoping that maybe God had revealed himself to those people, given them something special, only the message had been twisted. Tragically, a search of the early Church did not yield the results I’d hopped.
Reading the Bible cover to cover had revealed gaps in doctrine I was unaware off. Studying the history of its translation revealed ghastly, purposeful mistranslations. Studying the canonicity had revealed a far deeper commitment to contemporary orthodoxy than to truth. So, for the first time, I no longer implicitly trusted Christian authors. They were, as Acts said, “men of like passions”, and had no more guarantee to be right than I. Everything I read about early church history, I source checked. I went through the bibliographies of the books, and read the oldest books that came up the most often. Or, I did as long as I could stand it. Church history, not properly sanitized to fit post Victorian Christian norms, was appalling.
Oh, I knew about the Crusades and the Inquisition. What shocked me was the total fluidity of doctrine. Church doctrine was not a solid thing, but a sickly, taffy like mass. The early Church was the measuring stick of Christianity, the Holy standard which all churches tried to adhere too, and their doctrine was not, by any normal sense of the word, Christian. I didn’t know this because I had never read Church history from any perspective other than supporting an argument for doing church a certain way. Pre-Constantine Christianity is a lot like pre-Ford automobile manufacture. Before the Model T, cars could have 3 wheels or 4, levers or steering wheels, engines could be anywhere. Ford created the standard, what we think of as “car”. Before Constantine, Christian doctrine could be whatever you wanted. The Gospel could be whatever good news you liked. You didn’t like a trinity? No problem. Open marriage? We’ve got that. Nudism? Go for it. Communism? Why not? Jesus was purely spirit? Got that too. Heresy did not exist. It was not until the Church had political power to harm heretics that suddenly it had the will. Heresy suddenly became very important, because it made it acceptable to kill people and take their stuff. The road to orthodoxy is apparently paved with tombstones.
I studied more, hoping desperately to find God. The church had lied. Over and over again. She had claimed things as truth which were wrong. Unbiblical organizations, unbiblical norms, based in unbiblical doctrine, based on imaginary standards of canon. I got mad at God. He didn’t seem to do anything about the atrocities committed in his name, and didn’t even seem to have much a hand in witting the Bible. God just didn’t seem to give a damn. I wanted to be wrong. I wanted to believe. I wanted every hurt I had ever been given in Christ’s name to have been a mistake. So I told my Christian friends what was going on in my heart. How hurt I’d been by God and by the Church for lying to me about him. It seemed as if I was an abused wife, finally finding the courage to talk with the police, expecting help, but horribly wrong. They would look sympathetically at each bruise and gently explain, as if to a child, that it really was my fault and didn’t I know, if I would just do what he told me, this wouldn’t happen anymore? It was terribly painful.
And then I got it. I didn’t matter what evidence I had. To Christians, the sickness of the things that surround God could never be God’s fault. Christianity was not at fault, I was. It was all my fault. God is not accountable to anyone, that’s Christian Doctrine 101. No evidence, no source, no study, nothing would change their minds because nothing bad is God’s fault. “Blameless” is not beautiful; “blameless” is as ugly as death. When I was a Pizza Hut shift manager, if a cashier’s drawer was off by a dollar, I was accountable. It was on my watch, I had the power to do something about it, I did nothing, and I was responsible. Yet, the immortal, all knowing, all powerful master of the universe was “the blameless one” who stood watching every atrocity, or worse, stood by wanting to stop it, but waiting for more prayer. That was Holiness and if I didn’t like, well I could just burn in Hell.
I used to tell the people I was evangelizing to, trying to convince them of the personal nature of a relationship with God, “There is no difference between a God who will not act and cannot act because he isn’t real.” I swallowed the bitterest pill of my own advice I had ever given: I reluctantly accepted the fact that I was an atheist. Surprisingly, the world did not end. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was still capable of basic acts of morality. I didn’t cheat on my wife. If fact, I loved her more. Without the pressure to be “Christ to the Church” to her, I enjoyed spending time with her more. Without wondering if I was enjoying sex from fleshly desire instead of Holy love, martial relations were delightful. Between wanting to spend more time talking to her and wanting to spend more time with her in bed, our relationship blossomed.
Not believing in Hell changed how I treat people. Never realizing I was afraid to truly love non-believers because it would hurt so much to know they were burning in hell, I’d never had a non-Christian friend in my adult life. Now, I had non-christian friends. Because I didn’t spend half an hour in prayer for them before they came over, I invited them over more often. Since I no longer looked in the mirror and saw a filthy disgusting sinner, I had a lot more confidence. I made new friends quicker. Because I didn’t think I had to “life style evangelize” them, I was free to be myself when they were around, something I had never felt with most Christians.
I no longer constantly questioned whether or not I was “pursing God’s will” in my education, which made me stress less about college, and in turn, get better grades. In fact, the lack of worrying about God’s will allowed me to effectively plan my life for the first time. I’d never been able to make long term plans out of the terror I would do so out of God’s will and derail my life. Believing that perhaps I didn’t know everything I needed to know about parenting from a few sentences in a very old book, I read books on parenting, and became a better father.
After my marriage and my daughter, atheism is the single greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I have done more to achieve my dreams and experienced more joy and peace in the year or so that I’ve been an atheist than the prior twenty-seven. I love more deeply. I make better decisions. I have better friends. My only regret is that I waited so long. I feel like a grown man who finally realizes that there is no Santa. I’m a little embarrassed that my disbelief in an imaginary character was this healing, because it only reveals how emotionally, morally, and intellectually bankrupt I was before, a fault I cannot place on Christianity, but rather my adherence to it.
Two big thoughts today.
My deconversion story: I’m beginning to understand my teenage years. (I’ve been reading parenting books, more on that in part two) I sincerely wanted to be a Christian when I was a teen. The thing is, I also sincerely wanted to be a fighter pilot, rock star, pornagraphic model, cult leader, cat burgler, mercenary, repo man, special forces troop, artist, automotive engineer, truck driver, therapist, hit man, mafia boss, and, of course, Jedi Knight. The Teens are the time in our lives we try different identities and see what fits. Many of these identities were mutually exclusive. I could not be a Christian and porn star for instance. Also, in the case of “rock star”, there was the question of would I be a Keith Richards sort of rock star (not compatible with following Jesus) or a Phil Keaggy sort of rock star, which is more Jesus friendly. To consider some identities I had to consider the rejection of Christ, and the (perceived) ramifications that would bring.
I always considered myself a Christian, and yet had my private doubts about whether I was or not. Sometimes, I loved to do things that fit well in the 90’s Christian teen persona. I was a Youth Ministry Team member and worship leader, for instance (played guitar). I really, sincerely liked doing that. Other times, I loved to do things that did not fit well in the 90’s Christian teen persona, like hardcore bondage porn. I really enjoyed doing that too. I was enormously concerned with which actions sprang from the authentic me. Which upon reflection, I think, is what all teens are doing: trying out different patterns and thoughts and seeing which one seems to be the authentic self.
It seemed, as I was writing the story, I couldn’t really say Christianity was that important to me as a teen. If it had been, I would have confessed to someone that I was masturbating, looking at pornagraphy, hurting myself, and often suicidal. Suicidal above all, is not an OK way for Christian to feel. We even had a little talk about it in youth group. (I think a kid at the local high school had killed himself.) Iremember everyone going around the circle in small group saying “Oh, I can’t even contemplate what it would feel like to even want to contemplate suicide.” I never told anyone how much I wanted to kill myself because if they knew, they when I finally got up the nerve, they would stop me.
Those thoughts and actions are so out of tune with what is acceptable behavior for Christians, that I am tempted to say that I never took Christianity seriously. And yet, I know I did. I would often not take communion, because I took Paul’s warning that taking communion when one has unconfessed sin could result in God killing you. I didn’t commit suicide primary because I wanted to have sex first. Even if by some not understood way, I made it to heaven, there is no sex in heaven. Heaven or Hell, no sex. So I would just tell myself to endure another day because maybe tomorrow I would meet someone…
So, in one way it is true, I never took God seriously until after I broke up with my first girlfriend. It’s because I never really gave up on all those other identities, heroes and geniuses, until after I had sex. Then I resigned myself to being what God wanted me to be, since I had made such a mess trying to be what I wanted to be.
All that just sort of reinforces my new level of chill with the church. It’s OK. The church didn’t hurt me. I hurt me, and the for the last 3 years the church was easy to blame for that. Now, over the last three years, my pain was constructive, it helped me discover a lot wrong with the Bible, and ultimately reject the church’s beliefs, but it’s important to accept that I am responsible for my life.
However, I have yet another beef with the Church. I’m reading Raising a Daughter by Jeanne and Don Elium. The church told us we were prepared to parent if we just trusted Jesus and the Bible. Oh, there is so much I didn’t understand about parenting and am only now just begining to learn. I’m so glad I deconverted when my daughter was young, and I hadn’t really messed up yet. This is just one book, one set of experts. I’ve so much to study, so much peer review and sources to check. Perhaps the most dangerous thing the church does is assume it knows anything about raising children. *sigh*