I posted this on the front page before I saw this thread so I'll post it again here.
Hi! I spent 20 years under the influence of dogma, indoctrination and doubt in a little cult called "the way international" out of new knoxville ohio. Did some dabbling in mainstream xianity of which I thought Methodist had the most potential. I entered into a profound study of Buddhist philosophy and settled on Buddhism as a living philosophy, you know non-violence and interdependence and altruism.
In October of 2006 I was attending a spiritual retreat for those in "anonymous 12 step recovery" wink-wink :) It was at a beautiful facility in Malvern PA. St. Joseph of the hills. Well I had a very disturbing experience at a morning mass, the retreat master who was "supposed" to be sober drank the whole chalice of real communion wine. The light bulb went off in my head then exploded into a supernova of enlightenment which said, this is all bullshit. Religious people can make up any damn bullshit they want and sell it on sundays for a few bucks on a felt lined brass platter, issue forgiveness for a few pious platitudes and render absolution for a healthy posthumous donation to the widowed orphans fund. Bah, horse feathers! Bear oil, and poppycock.
I don't require solace or comfort or promises of a future blessed afterlife. Or live like hell for 6 days receive forgiveness on the seventh and start it all over on monday? What kind of ultra-well-balanced people are these christians that they can do that? Of course I'm kidding, just look at what this mentality has done, our prisons are over crowded with these "well adjusted" christians.
I'm the happiest I've ever been since ditching the dogma.
I was invited to this group by the Nerd, but I have been a life long atheist so I don't have a story to tell about any conversion process. I do have some advice to offer.....don't change one belief for another. Beliefs come in many forms and may or may not include a deity. This is particularly true of political beliefs.
Behavior should be based on the reality of today and not on the expectations of tomorrow. Why? Because we don't know what tomorrow will bring and because any projection of how we should act for the sake of the future creates prejudices. If we behave base on what we know today, we will evolve based on those well adjusted behaviors and our future will unfold with new challenges as we learn more about the world/universe around us. When that happens, we then can behave based on that new knowledge and understanding. We must accept that everything changes and as our knowledge base changes, so will our behavior. It is the nature of evolutionary process.
In any case, when I was growing up, I was told that things like Rock music, etc were bad. As a child I remember worrying about every possible symbol of satanic influence, and if I was associating with the wrong thing, that I was going to hell. Eternity is a long time. I can remember the fear I felt when I first grasped the concept of eternity. The church I went to was very good at making it clear as to what Hell was.
I remember the last time I had any faith in Christianity - I was at a local "church camp", and we were all called into an auditorium. They started to play funeral music, and rolled out a coffin. Many of the kids started crying. I was swept with a wave of emotions - Sadness (I recently lost my grandmother, and still hadn't dealt with the death of my father), then when I was told what was in the coffin, I was furious. They put a mirror in to remind people that they are mortal. However, I felt manipulated. I couldn't believe what they had done. For some reason, that incident raised all sorts of questions, pretty much all at once.
Over the next several months, I realized that everything I believed in was architected by fear and manipulation. I started reading about other religions, belief systems, ideas. Throughout my first marriage, I ended up not in a moderate church, but made some pagan friends and got involved in that community. Not sure how much I believed in it, probably some, but over time the rituals and pseudo-rational ideas started to catch up to me.
After I divorced my first wife, who had her own set of delusions regarding the supernatural, I decided that I couldn't intellectually support the idea of the supernatural, as I had never experienced it, and everyone who I ever ran into who claimed they had was either clearly delusional, or possibly delusional. I decided I was probably agnostic, in the absence of any evidence for it.
When "The God Delusion" came out, it gave me permission internally to let that go. It was like a great weight was lifted off of my shoulders.
In any case, I had the privilege to listen to your story in Atlanta, Nate. On many levels, I connected with it, and I would like to encourage you to keep sharing it.
It took me a long time to realize that there is a difference between faith and belief.
Faith is belief without evidence. There are very few things I have faith in - The fidelity of my wife, the general goodness of mankind (I know there is badness in the world, but I have a tendency to think things will generally turn out OK), etc. Faith is very hard to change, once started, and the things you should have faith in should be very few and far between. We should also be OK with examining our faith to make sure that it's not contradicted with evidence - People should treat it very carefully. I do think that there is some room in our lives for a limited amount of faith, but certainly not in a deity.
I argued about this with my mom on Monday - She thinks that faith is faith, and it shouldn't be questioned - I argued that it should be questioned frequently.
I was raised Southern Baptist. My dad was our music minister for my entire childhood. My struggle all began because I was an avid student of the bible. And I would study and read for hours a day. Instead of finding peace and understanding in the bible, I found inconsistencies that couldn't be explained away to my satisfaction, I found horrors and atrocities that were commanded by "God" listed in scripture, I found more questions than answers. I spent a solid YEAR on my face weeping and crying out to the biblical god to help me to clearly understand scripture assuming the whole time that it was sin in my heart that kept me from understanding his true meaning. I prayed night and day, barely slept, talked to so many pastors I lost count (including several that are on my friend list here and some pretty famous ones as well), begged god and asked trusted Christian friends to help me understand. You will get an inaccurate picture if you do not understand how distraught I was during this time. You won't come close to understanding my journey if you don't understand how earnestly and sincerely I begged god to help me be able to overlook the "problems" I found in scripture so that I could trust HIM. I thought I was losing my mind. I blamed myself and gave up every kind of "sin" you can imagine, thinking that my own failures were blocking my understanding of god's word. I did not watch TV, movies, read books other than the bible and related commentaries, didn't talk to people who might influence me away from "the truth" which I FULLY believed was found in the bible. I, at the recommendation of a respected pastor, started taking online seminary classes in hopes of getting understanding of how I was misinterpreting scripture. I committed myself to more intense study almost to the neglect of my husband and kids in search of god's truth. Seminary (very conservative) not only didn't answer my questions, but added soo many more that I hadn't even thought of. More inconsistencies were pointed out in order to show us as Christians how to handle these questions from people outside the faith. The professor's explanations were most of the time laughable... I saw how HARD they had to work to explain away major problems in this "perfect" book. It had been about 18 months of intense seeking when I began to allow myself to look outside the Christian faith for answers. I had already read Christian apologist books, but now I started to read EX christian books that explained why these devoted followers of Christ had left the faith. There stories matched mine exactly. Theses folks had given EVERYTHING to Jesus and had felt/thought the same way I did. For the first time in my entire life, I realized that there was an alternative to the miserable fear filled, self condemning faith that I had. Pretty quickly after this point, my faith completely unravelled. And I felt peace and freedom unlike anything I had before.
my kids are very young -- the oldest is 8. and i have SLOWLY changed pace with them... they seem to be doing fine. my husband watched me suffer and plead with god for so long, that by the time I gave up, so had he. we have been attending a unitarian universalist congregation and are really enjoying our experience there. i didn't want to drop religion altogether -- taking it to the other extreme. but I also couldn't continue in something that i believe is total BS now. UU was a great compromise. my kids are learning about the religions of the world. and one day, they will have the knowledge they need to make an informed decision about thier own spirituality.
my birth family is a whole other story, though. to put it simply, they are freaking out.
My grandmother was a word-faith minister/cult leader. We were taught to put 100% of our faith in God, not in mankind. We were born at home, never had immunizations or went to the doctor, and chose "home" versions of things whenever possible (homebirth, homeschool, homechurch - you get the idea). My indoctrination was in essence the exact opposite of secular humanism. I remember my grandmother telling me "There's no such thing as human goodness. Humans are wicked and evil. Anything good in this world is God's doing." We were also cautioned against pride for our accomplishments as a serious sin, and "self-esteem" was a buzzword worthy of scorn. The entire flavor of my childhood was misanthropic. I was protected from secular influences of course, so no radio till I was 12, no secular movies/music, homeschool and then Christian school, etc. The doctrine of Original Sin was a biggie, and my grandmother's absolute favorite Biblical author was Paul. She constantly talked about the Flesh Realm vs. the Spirit Realm. The Spirit Realm was much more real to her and more important than this foolish reality everyone else was so concerned with. She sought metaphors to explain the "spiritual root cause" for any number of misfortunes - misplaced keys, a stolen car (we weren't allowed to lock our doors, so we had cars stolen three or four times growing up), child molestation (me and my brother, by two separate individuals), ectopic pregnancy, a fever... Anything and everything was spiritual in nature and demons were very real to me as a child. During difficult teenage rebellion and drug use (woo-hoo! just kidding) I was sent to a detox farm (cult) in Texas where they cast demons out of me. I attended many Deliverance Seminars (exorcisms) throughout my preteen and teen years to "fix" my independence. Hell was a serious threat, and eternity seemed like an unnecessarily long time even to be in Heaven. I worried about my non-cult friends. Of course other versions/denominations were all damned - Catholics, Methodists, etc. were doomed to the hellfires. Only extreme branches like Non-Denominational Charismatic, Pentacostal, and Mennonite/Amish were pure enough/faithful enough for Heaven. I remember crying and begging the Lord to take my free will from me, because it seemed all I could do was sin. I cannot express how much I hated myself, and when I discovered this I became convinced I was possessed by a demon of Self Hatred. My grandmother loved to name the demons residing in us. There were very, very, very few angels in this reality in comparison to the volume of demons. In high school I made friends with queers, witches, and other sinners. I've continued to seek out offbeat friends like this ever since. At 22 I had my son. Looking at him, I knew Original Sin had to be wrong. I started taking my daily devotionals more faithfully and seriously. In college I studied Middle East International Relations and early US History. I knew I didn't believe any of the claims of Islam, but didn't know why Christianity by comparison seemed so obvious and reasonable to me. I also learned about a lot of America's homegrown cults like LDS & Seventh Day Adventist. From all these studies, I started researching my own church group, Home In Zion Ministries, and discovered it's a cult. I spent about 6 months freaking out and I started looking at atheism. I think it was an accident - I stumbled on a You Tube video done by the site WhyWontGodHealAmputees.com that set out to show the universe would work the same whether God was real or imaginary. Within a week I had a copy of "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens and I was watching every debate, interview, and BBC special Richard Dawkins ever made. I don't think I was agnostic for even five minutes. If the Bible is true, then my grandma's extreme crackpot version of requiring him to fulfill promises he made is reasonable. If the Bible isn't true, then life is suddenly worth living. I now think people are inherently moral, that my childhood was fucked up, and that religious indoctrination is child abuse. On the plus side, I got out early enough that my own kid doesn't think he should take a Veggie Tales video any more seriously than Winnie the Pooh. It's all fiction and at the end of the day, no one thinks he's evil.
Hi there. Here is my 'religious biography' and a little about who I am today.
I was raised in an Independent Baptist church in a small midwestern town. It was very sheltered. The teaching was fundamentalist, and there was an influential contingent of John Birchers in the church. In my young mind, Christianity was mixed up with racism, anticommunist fervor, homophobia, and antisemitism. Sincere, earnest, and going through puberty with all of the hormonal urgency, I started reading the bible word by word, line by line, page by page. An evangelistic group, David Wilkerson Minsitries, came into town, hoovered up money from impressionable young people, and left. Family members gave me tracts from the Herbert W. Armstrong Ministries, the Worldwide Church God, which I soaked up, and believed, every word. I couldn't understand why my family, and church, was not following the literal word of god, and had major dilemmas about submitting to my parents when told to clear my dinner plate, when clearly the ham was not allowed in the scripture. If we are obeying the 10 commandments, why aren't we honoring the Sabbath (Saturday)? Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to change it. Among other issues.
Prayer, more bible reading, followed by more prayer, and more bible reading, infused with the doctrine of biblical infallibility and literal reading, led me to question scripture, then compare different sections and their contradictions. I started to wonder why the concept of a loving god would mean the merciless, impetuous, cruel killings that Yahweh condoned. Why did we celebrate christmas, when that clearly didnt correspond to the bible story of jesus' birth? Contradictions piled on contradiction, and ultimately I decided that it can't be contradictory and still be true; Yahweh can't be love AND hate, god can't have many sons and one son, christianity can't condemn paganism and then practice it. You can't say that it's literally true, then pick and choose.
Watching the bigots of my Baptist upbringing, knowing that they smoked and drank (very nonbaptist), hearing them curse, hearing the gossip about sexual adventuring by the church deacons and other fervent members... the cognitive dissonance grew. The 'good' churchgoing teenagers would impregnate their girlfriends / get pregnant by someone not their own race (look at the baby), and be shuffled out of church, then be welcomed back minus the baby. Meanwhile maintaining that it was to remain an all white church. Meanwhile there was bullying, violence, and incessant gay scapegoating. Once I was thrown out of sunday school, after stating that "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs", by Karl Marx, sounded a lot like something Jesus would say. This makes me laugh today. I especially hated myself for my unacknowledged, and unacted upon sexual awakening. This is understandable, given the unending obsession of those Baptists with sex. I attended church until finishing high school, then left that church, town, and area, and went back only to visit family.
Life took me thousands of miles, into various cultures, subcultures, countries, and states. I dabbled for a while in Unitarian Universalism, and I liked their liberalism and inclusiveness, but was never able to get into the de-christianized ceremonies, services, and rituals. It felt like eating a Twinkie without the filling. So I gave that up as well. I studied science, was a professional student, a lab rat, a research microbiologist, then decided it was time for a 'real career' and went to medical school. The last change took, and now I practice internal medicine, concentrating on chronically ill and elderly patients. I live with my long term partner who is also atheist, but came from atheistic upbringing, having grown up during the cultural revolution in China (and now being completely capitalistic). We have a quiet life, like any other middle aged couple, work excessively long hours, work on the house, grow organic veggies and fruits in the yard, and travel once in a while.
I have tried to forget about religion. I thought that I did. It's been a long, long time. I truly don't give a damn what people do behind the closed doors of their silly temples. Then, during the Bush years, there was continuous promotion of religion. There was increasing agression and power hunger among religious demagogues and polititians. It feels like more people are more open about their religion, and more aggressive about it, than in the past.
Even though I never labeled myself 'an atheist', I have been exactly that since my late teens. Now I'm more anti-religious than before.
I wonder if it would be better to have no memory of those earlier years. Most of the time I don't think about them at all.