Well, the introduction forum exists, I know what to do: Hi, my name is Josh and I'm a former Christian. I'm still at the point where fully embracing the term atheist makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I try to call things what they are and as such, I have to call myself a godless heathen whose going to burn in fire until I'm nothing but ashes when I die. I'm planning on being cremated and scattered anyways...and that way if Jesus does surprise me and come back and wants to resurrect me it'll give him a bit more work finding all the pieces, lol.
I've only read a couple threads on the site so far so I don't know how my story stacks up with you guys, but it seems pretty par based on my reading the testimonials on exchristians.net.
Yeah...so I was raised in a mostly Catholic charismatic community (see yeslord.com for more details if you want to know specifics) going to Church every Sunday, prayer meetings Wed & Thursdays, music practice (the community's music ministry) on Mondays, boy scouts (the community's troop) on Tuesdays. I took Bible classes k-12 in their private Christian school, except 1st grade where I went to an actual Catholic school.
I hope I don't have to explain any of this to people, but I can if I need to...unlike I've had to do with Christian groups, I'm going to assume you people are knowledgeable enough to know or intelligent enough to google it.
A normal Catholic kid growing up, from the point of Catholicism, with one notable exception. When it was time to be "confirmed" I sat in the pew with my friends listening to the bishop spout the same thing they always spout and I contemplated the "voluntary" nature of the confirmation sacrament. While I personally didn't give a crap one way or the other, I acknowledged that if I had actually had a desire to not be confirmed, I would find that I did not have that option.
The inevitable condemnation of my peers, probable out-casting, disapproval from my parents, and so on flooded through my mind. I acknowledged in my mind that I probably shouldn't be being confirmed since I didn't really feel it, but it was these thoughts of impending torture that kept me glued to my seat instead of running for my freedom. However even though I've said the same vows numerous times before and after, (it's the Nicene creed they want you to agree with, if I remember correctly), I did not say them when the bishop directed us to as a group. I will admit, that same fear probably had something to do with why I moved my lips ceremoniously up and down (not forming words, just straight up and down) when everyone else was saying the stuff.
So when I graduated and moved out, I do what all normal Catholics do and I became a hedonist. It's the logical move for an invincible 18 year old Catholic. All I had to do was make sure I didn't do anything so bad as to actually die from it and I could go confess to the priest on Saturday night before evening mass. The whole death thing probably is what kept me from getting into drugs too much, I think, the fear of overdose...dying while sinning was not an situation I was willing to risk. I didn't consider alcohol a drug (sure it is, it's obvious now) so it was my drug of choice.
At this point, I kinda lived 2 distinct lives, one for my family and religious friends and one for my bar buddies. They didn't interact much until I got one of my bar buddies pregnant. We eventually got married (it was a lot more story than that, but not relevant to my religious history) and she moved to my family/religious friend list. She wouldn't even step in a bar nowadays.
So I tried to "clean up" my life a bit. I abandoned all of my bar buddies altogether. I started going back to church regularly and me and the wife joined the Alleluia Community. Sure, it's a cult by any normal definition, but it's not any more dangerous than normal Christianity. It was the same place I grew up and I knew their effective motto was that they were Christians helping each other be better Christians. Went back to Wed & Thursdays prayer meetings, etc. All the motions.
I'll admit at this point, I never really was full-hearted in it and left the community (as in membership and participation, not location, I'm still physically located in their midst) because of this half-heartedness, for my own intellectual integrity. Slightly before I left, however, something amazing happened...
I was having a crisis of faith one night, and while outside I looked up at the sky and prayed for some sign...the next day I found Creationism. I considered it a miracle and an answer to prayer, but now I realize it was simply that I started looking for something and hence I found something. You see, at the school I attended, not only was Creationism not taught, no origins discussion ever occurred. The evolution section in high school biology was simply skipped (as was the human reproduction system...don't worry, I figured out where to put things when the time came). Otherwise, it's a pretty decent school. Having no direction in the matter, except the cutout board animations in CCD, I simply assumed that Adam and Eve really existed, that David was always a kid with a slingshot and that Jesus was a hippy (not the word I would have used then, but the same idea) and didn't think anything more about it at all, ever...until that day.
Creationism spawned my interest in the Bible...I was now of the utmost certainty that anything it said in a matter of fact sense (as opposed to parts like the prophecies and psalms where you're supposed look for "spiritual" meaning) were absolutely true. In a matter of days, I went from half-hearted to utterly obsessed with Christianity. I read everything I could about Creationism and studied the Bible like a maniac. I found myself in the midst of groups I had never even heard of arguing like crazy. Much of the time I spent correcting the Creationists for using bad arguments, you know, like the banana being "designed." I literally face-palmed at Cameron when I saw him pull out the crocoduck...yes, even Creationists think he's a numb-nut.
Now, Catholics are not creationists generally (apparently anyways, at least in this area), but since I grew up without any direction, I had no idea who was what. So, I ended up chatting very much with protestants...who have on their list of things to say, a number of complaints against the Catholic Church. So I went on a mission to prove to them that the Catholic Church was correct. That's when I found out that the Vatican doesn't believe in Creationism...it was confusing, but I set it aside for the moment. I never actually came back to it, I realized they were bullshiting before I would have.
My first goal was to tackle the Saturday/Sunday issue (thanks SDA). When the reason for disregarding one of the 10 commandments was not readily apparent, I stopped going to church...just in case. I was extremely disappointed to know that there was absolutely no rationality behind moving the rest day to Sunday...in fact, it's not a rest day at all, it's a worship day. Catholicism did not have a rest day and every argument in favor of Sunday was effectively based on "you should worship all the time." I had to reject Sunday worship on the basis that it ignores and causes people to violate the 10 commandments. If you're not aware, the Sunday they worship on is the 8th day of the week...retards. The commandment says rest on the 7th day, not worship on the 8th day. I could go on, but I'll move on. I started with Catholic resources only, but even the "8th day" protestants didn't have any reason.
During this time, I found that some people had an issue with the Trinity not being in the Bible. I knew it never directly said it, so I made up a list of the minimum requirements needing to be met and gathered from different parts of the Bible...I searched and searched and searched literally for years before I had enough to say matter of factly, it is not in there. With a handful of other doctrines I was simultaniously researching, every one of the Protestant complaints that xxx doctrine wasn't in the Bible were true. And I never found a church which had freed itself of all the unbiblical doctrine. The only thing they seem to be able to say correctly is that all the other ones are wrong, well you're wrong too! I'd have had to pick a church based on which wrong doctrines they had I was most comfortable with and I wasn't willing to accept any lies with my truth so I went to none of them.
By this time, my family and religious friends didn't discuss religion at all with me. No one came to me and asked why I stopped going to church. I raged on facebook a decent amount and on my blog which I since removed...kinda. It's still stored in blogger, just not displayed. I found one guy I could relate to as he was going through something similar. I even drove from Georgia to Ohio for Passover which was fun, not the Passover, the trip in general was fun, and we visited the Creation Museaum, yay!
Both of us had been banned from Answer's in Genesis for discussing that the Trinity doctrine was incorrect. They banned us before they banned the atheists. They went on a banning spree in order to hide banning two of their most active Creationist members on the facebook page, Allen and I. You see, an atheist isn't a threat to Creationists. Most of the time, atheists will refuse to discuss anything from the perspective of being within the creation model framework (i.e. "world view"), just like a non-Catholic will refuse to discuss things from within the perspective of being inside the Catholic viewpoint. At that point, the atheist is dismissed as not understanding the grander scope, or something like that. Also, atheists would clearly lack "the Spirit." Another easy dismissal.
The problem with Allen and I was that we were discussing the Trinity from within the Biblical framework the Creationists wanted us to use in order to be Creationists, but not within the framework they used for devotionals, spiritual truth, etc., which is where they wanted us to worship. It's a bait and switch tactic honestly and I wasn't falling for it. Allen and I spent a few months writing up a very well documented list of why AiG's Trinity "proof" was a pile of crap if based on the method of reading the Bible they recommend when discussing creation. They largely ignored it. The best I got out of them was that they were too busy...right, too busy to discuss one of the most fundamental aspects of Christianity, sure. I can post a link if anyone is interested in that.
I had a long search trying to find a group that actually believed the whole Bible...and what an adventure. I nearly joined a ton of them, but stopped short at every one. Then I found a guy who investigated Islaam and found it false...and went on to investigate Paul. Paul was a liar who disagreed with Peter and Jesus. I didn't take that's guys word against Paul, I investigated his reasons and they were sound. I learned a lot about Bible translating at this point. I became a Sacred Name'r (someone who believes YHWH should not be replaced with "Lord" and should be pronounced correctly) and eventually dropped Luke's gospel (he was Paul's lackey) and all Paul's letters from my Bible (mentally, anyways, I always use online ones) as well as Job, because he's a retard too. Also, Job's description of Satan's activity didn't mesh at all with the rest of the Bible and it's full of a bunch of crap philosophy from people who don't matter on any scale for a great part.
I want to mention at this point, that the past 5 years are a bit of a jumble in my mind. Some of the events happened simultaneously with each other over the course of months or years, but it's logically coherent as I started one part and starting it led to another in roughly the order they're presented above. Today, I've still got at least 4 different worldview's stuck in there and I hate Christianity from each and every one of them. But removing tainted books from my Bible is when it all really broke down...I eventually realized I had no way of knowing which other books should remain.
The end result was that I had to face the fact that if I knew there were alterations and additions that weren't in the originals, I could not trust those parts, but I knew that there was no way for me to know which parts should be and which should not be. The entire thing had to be trashed because with this uncertainty, the entire thing is unreliable.
What I was left with before I discarded the whole thing still had two distinct concepts. There's the Westboro concept, wrath of an angry God, and there's the Hippy Jesus concept, love dude. Ironically, I found myself the only Creationist as a non-Christian surrounded by Christian evolutionists. (Think about that for a sec.)
That's pretty close to where I am now, but I never stop thinking...being an atheist creationist sounds retarded, so I'll probably have to think about that a bit. Anyways, after that, I came to the same conclusion of statistical likeliness of prayer that you can find on Why Won't God Heal Amputees? before I read that site. Though I would add that the statistic for answered prayer is actually higher than he's indicating because prayer requests are a gamble and people naturally weigh the gamble before making the request. Just an example, kid's don't normally pray for snow unless their parent's prime them with, "It might snow." By that time, the parent has already analyzed that there's a decent likeliness to get a "yes" before the kid even prays.
I realized the psychological effects of praise and worship prayer are completely physical, psychological results of the imposed stimuli and activities. I had to come to this conclusion because I remembered the feelings but knew that where I was when I had them was not what I was told it was (that being "the truth") and their God was fiction. I had made a mental distinction between their God and mine shortly before my dad one time told me, "I'd offer to pray with you but you don't worship the same God I do." That was the day I stopped saying "grace" with my family at family gatherings and participating in any of their prayer or worship.
My ultimate conclusion regarding Christianity is that it is a drug. It is a very powerful drug. I am currently going through withdraw, but the beer and ranting on facebook seem to help a little. Priests, monks, nuns, popes, and every other Christian leader is a conman and a drugdealer, and he is that regardless of whether or not he's fooled himself too. My older brother is a conman. He is a music leader in Alleluia as well as a high school teacher and a "head" (their title for the leader of one of their smaller hierarchical structures).
He not infrequently uses scripture out of context, sometimes for jokes, but normally as part of a bad rationalization probably passed to him from some Catholic book or website. I've called it on him a number of times and now he simply avoids talking about the Bible around me. My father will not discuss anything with me either. My mother will discuss things to a certain extent, and she is the only one in my whole family who will, but it does quickly get beyond her tolerance level. My older sister won't listen, but she will give an occasional advice something like, "You do realize that not celebrating Christmas will permanently scar your daughter, right?" I don't know if I've ever had conversation with my younger sister that was more than small talk in my whole life...things didn't change between me and her as far as I can tell.
Of course, I realize my daughter will have issues and I certainly wish for an alternative. Christmas is the most powerful drug I've ever taken and one of the worst times of the year for me now because of the withdraw. I was literally sick for 3 weeks and my mom told me she was worried about me Saturday a couple weeks ago...I told her it would be gone "by Monday." My dad took their Christmas decorations down Sunday and I was totally over my 3 week nausea the following day. I knew when it was going on that it was entirely psychological and going to a doctor wouldn't change a thing.
Hell yes, I want to celebrate in the style of Christmas, but I can't celebrate a bold faced lie with people who actually believe it's true. Who knows, I might be able to celebrate with people who know it's crap, but it wouldn't be the same...I think that knowing the truth about it's falsehood removes it's power to instill the desired brain chemicals. You literally have to actually believe in order to feel it, as they say. Some of their sayings have an entirely different meaning to me now.
I also want to have sex. However, I'm not willing to cheat on my wife and I cannot have sex with her because I know her main intent is to have more children and those children would necessarily be raised Catholic. I cannot make more Catholics, nor even more Christians. The idea of sex with my wife instantly brings up the idea of children because of her obsession. Even before I left the Church, that obsession made it difficult for me to have sex because I can't think about babies while I have sex. At least I know I'll never be a pedophile. She wasn't like that before we got married, she had sex freely without the intent to bare children. It was nearly instant when we got married that sex was now an action performed for the specific purpose of having kids.
She's perpetually mad at me for this, but after last summer when I told her it was going to ruin the marriage, she suppresses it much better. Though I actually told her that not being open and discussing precisely this entire post of what I've told all of you here is what will eventually ruin the marriage, she only heard that it was the being mad part.
Now you guys know more about me than 95% of my friends on facebook.
I'm comfortable with calling them slaves, yeah. They certainly can, obviously they don't, but from my recent experience it seems that "dare not" is most applicable. Unfortunately, they're also comfortable with the word slave..."a slave of Christ."
Adventists represent! Glad to have been a crucial stumbling block leading to your eventual downfall. Anyone seriously interested in Biblical literalism is going to come across the SDA church someday. And our "sister" church, the non-trinitarian Jehovah's Witnesses. Sounds like you spent some time with them too, eh?
No observant Adventist or Witness will admit it, but these churches are probably more similar historically than they are different theologically. Not too unusual to have a "seeker" jump from one to the other, either. Of course, that only leads us to hate each other. Interesting how the world works.
There is SO MUCH here I want to respond to, but I have to leave here in just a minute. I will be back though, and that is a promise. :)
LOL. I was very convinced by Veith's videos to the extent that I even drove over to a local SDA church to actually talk to someone in person, but no one was there. Veith's pretty ruthless against the Mormons actually. By the time I actually gave any consideration to Mormonism, however, I knew the Bible too well. I happened to pick up a Watchtower magazine (or whatever it's called) and noticed on the first paragraph I read something (wish I could remember what, sorry I can't) that I knew was unbiblical. I immediately threw it in the trash and never considered the Mormons again. For the sake of remembering what it was, I wish I had kept it, but whatever.
I recently watched Julia Sweeny's youtube video about her experience with the Mormons, and thinking about the back story, I would never have been able to accept that story unless I was indoctrinated very young. So no, I never spent any time with them.
Ellen White was part of the reason I never actually joined SDA. Her story was a bit far fetched as well. I was in the process of investigating the trinity doctrine (I literally spent years trying to prove it came from the Bible...it doesn't) while I watched Veith's videos. I believe he said that SDA believed in the Trinity as well, but they didn't have any scriptural basis for it either. In retrospect, it is obvious. It's not from there; how could they?
I'm definitely interested in comments about my story. It's actually a huge relief to find people who are wiling to actually discuss it.
Well, welcome aboard, Joshua.
It is amazing how each person's journey here to atheism (if they didn't start that way) is different in large respects, but they almost all seem to come to the conclusion: where is the evidence for this belief?
Not worrying about trying to please an absent father and his son and wondering whether you are doing so when there is no feedback, with the threat of eternal punishment if you failed to please properly is a relief.
And if one would ostracise you for what you believe, one wonders how much they like/love you and how much they want you to confirm their own irrational fears.
Though I was never a Christian, I find it amazing how few Christians actually take the (possibly) greatest New Testament command with a grain of salt: that being 1 Peter 3:15 (you must be able to give good reason for the joy of your faith, which requires an intimate knowledge of the Scriptures).
Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience television show occasionally points out, as he was on his journey through the seminary, that he felt that to be a proper Christian he needed to take that command seriously. So he started digging. And in the end he found that there was no good justification for his faith. The Bible is such a kluge of disconnected commands and passages, coupled with some of the most horrific commands and moral codes around, that he could not be joyous in faith, and left.
The welcome in this place is wonderful. Thank you and everyone.
I don't know that I'd word my situation like that, "where is the evidence for this belief?" I ended up with the conclusion that the Bible was garbage basically in the same way that is described in your last paragraph (except I was not in seminary), then had to rationalize for myself why I'd experience what I had under a clearly false God. See the most recent reply to Michael on page 1 of these comments for details, but basically, I had the same proof as the rest, being touched by the holy spirit, a good community, strong relationship with God and answered prayers. That last part not addressed here in length, I think, but my analysis of answered prayers came to basically what is on the site Why Doesn't God Heal Amputees which I read after coming to the same conclusion. So effectively my question was, "what is this stuff I used to call evidence if what it was supposedly evidence for is false?" Kinda the reverse of, "where is the evidence," LOL.
You know what's interesting, I never had a strong fear of hell. A bit of peer pressure at points, I suppose, but it didn't seem particularly wrong to me so even the peer pressure probably wasn't that necessary. You see, Catholicism only uses hell to keep people Catholic. Catholics don't, from my experience, fear hell, they just stay Catholic. I'll agree it's a fear tactic, but the continual feeling of fear isn't really there.
I'm not sure I agree with you on the level of people who follow 1 Peter 3:15 considering what I put to Michael earlier. Most I know do have their reason, it's referred to as their, "personal testimony," it's just not a reason you or I would accept. 4 years ago, I would have told you about the miracle of the flowers changing color when I prayed for that and "feeling" the holy spirit at prayer meetings. Gotta go, may add more later.
Very moving autobiography. We all have our journey in life. It's often not a straight line from point A to point B. You tell that tale compellingly. I hope your next steps will give you a break from the intensity.
My own saga went through fundamentalist Baptist, and attraction to the Worldwide Church of God, which was influential for me but never fully consummated. I think there is something about human nature that makes these insular communities (some would say cults) attractive to so many. Glad you escaped.
Joshua, your experience is yet another data-point supporting the idea that non-belief stems from a deeper scholarship of religion itself. Investigation within a religion - and not necessarily any intentional polemic against the religion - is what leads one to recognize the contradictions and absurdities, and therefore to distance oneself from the constructs of the belief system.
It's interesting that in modern American, Catholics claim to champion education and critical analysis of of their faith, while Protestants (both mainstream and the various offshoots) tend to focus more on experiential and devotional religion that does not intellectually challenge the believer. I would expect as a result proportionately more Catholics leaving their church, while Protestants dogmatically remain clinging to it.
In the end, what matters is not whether one "believes in god" or how one translates the various rituals such as Christmas into religious idiom, but whether we base our decisions, our values and ultimately our "faith" on experience and intuition, or on appeal to authority. Religion is not unique in insisting that authority trumps personal investigation, but it seems to have pushed this notion the furthest. The more we train ourselves to think for ourselves, the less we're imprisoned by the upbringing of our youth or the dogmas of our community.
Well, Christianity at every level has built in logical defenses against (new word for me) polemic. Any accusation of stupidity, any profanity or anything that could be taken as a physical or verbal offense, triggers memories of scripture passages like, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matt 5:11-12. Note here, how not only do they get the feel-good about future rewards in heaven (you basically just paid them), but they also strengthen their relationship structures in their brain for the fictional characters listed there by basis of interpreted common experience with those people. Polemic is exactly what you do not want to do when addressing them if you have any intention of changing them...despite the fact that I've been doing this on my facebook page recently. Like I've said, new to this not believing in God thing, so I have to rework how everything exists. I think I even wrote some of this in my original post, but this makes me try to more consciously apply it.
Very little of the laity do any critical analysis of the faith from what I've seen. The clergy are not allowed to. In Catholicism, none of them are allowed to. I'd have to look up the reference in the Cannon, but it's there. In the testimonials section of ex-christians.net, there are a number of Protestant pastors and/or preachers who told stories of being forced (the not allowed to I mentioned earlier) to preach despite doubts or unbelief because of the consequences...loss of job, expulsion from the community, etc. I didn't notice any Catholic ones. The only people I've found willing to discuss these things are the ones in the path I've already decided to head. I move past them...the conversation fades out.
I know that Christianity uses the word "believe" a lot, but I don't know that it's so much a matter of baseless acceptance. It always seemed "nonbelievers" accuse "belief" as some sort of acceptance without proof. As I said earlier, the reason is in a person's personal testimony, but analyzed properly can be attributed to, effectively a mind game. But they do feel, they do have a relationship and they do see changes. I've personally never heard of a miracle where there was reliable witnessing (i.e. numerous witnesses in present day with a good record of intellectual honesty and no particular external interest) which couldn't be described as mass hallucination (which is usually triggered by a suggestion, like when I stared at the sun for a while and saw it swirling at some Mary vision event), improper analysis of statistical probability (like the example of kids praying for snow), misanalysis of the actual situation (like someone spontaneously getting over the flu), or misattribution to the intelligent mastermind behind the result (like doctors fixing someone through their training and experience). Their conmen put the perspective on these which they adopt and consistently see results. Critical analysis is irrelevant when you have tangible proof. It's difficult to combat.
The path I took is very unlikely to happen to many people, I think. The internal defenses to remain at the state one is are very strong, and the pressure of evidence is entirely absent as they already have theirs. Dawkins was right to call it a delusion, and a very strong one with a very tangible proof to the addicted. (One day I'll read that book.) If I may be so bold, apologists are the only ones I know who appeal to authority for evidence. But they convince no one with that. I was going to add "except those who are already convinced based on their 'personal testimony'" but you don't convince someone who is already convinced.
I don't think much of this disagrees with what you said, but it's kinda my perspective relevant to it as a guy who still has all of this relatively fresh in his mind and trying to deal with knowing the Bible's not true.
Wow Joshua! You have been through so much! I was raised without religion, but I did 'try it' for a short while to see what all the fuss was about. It was just looking from the outside in thinking how silly. That ended fast! We have always celebrated celebrating! lol. Like winter solstice, Santa Claus, all the fun, but nothing religious about it whatsoever. My husband was raised catholic, but after living with me, he's an agnostic. Our kids 18 and 20 now are Atheists. They are GREAT kids!
I don't know what I can offer here except a warm welcome, an ear to listen any time, and support!~ Melinda
Let me ask you, when you tried it, can I assume that you didn't "feel" the Holy Spirit, didn't need a new support system and didn't form any relationship with God? These three things seem to be in all the "personal testimonies" I'm hearing recently (didn't pay attention till recently because it wasn't relevant to me).
I'm glad to hear about your kids. Growing up, I was taught to be wary of atheists.
I don't really have any issue with people celebrating with Santa and all the other imported ideas provided there's no confusion about what's true and what's a very fun game. With the mental association, I'm probably not going to be able to do this for a very long time, but I certainly don't mind anyone who is not delusional about it, believing the Christian (or any other) fiction, doing it.
Thank you too for the welcome, it has been quite warm :).