I’ve had a long road from being a Christian Fundamentalist teenager to an out-and-proud Atheist and Secular Activist. I get asked from time to time what my story is, and so I thought I might write it down. I grew up in a fairly fundamentalist home. My mother frequently took us to church (for awhile), but by the time she stopped going I still was very involved in the church. I attended the Glenvale Church of God in Rye Township, Pennsylvania. It was small-town church, part of the Churches of God General Conference.
I wasn’t a very popular kid growing up, and for me the church offered a way to make friends and get along with people. When I say I was a fundamentalist, I mean that I lived in fear that if I didn’t do enough to be “right in the eyes of God”, I was certainly afraid of going to hell. But, I will say that church did have it’s benefits – I did make quite a few friends there. I still keep in touch, occasionally with some of those childhood friends.
I was 13 years old when I first started to question my Christian upbringing. That year my grandmother passed away. To put this into the proper context, my father (her son) died when I was 4 years old. After he died, it was my grandmother I would say I was closest to. Shortly after that, I attended a “Jesus Camp” in central Pennsylvania, called Camp Yolijwa (A shortening of “Youth Living Jesus’ Way”, made to sound vaguely American Indian).
I had attended this camp for several years – always had a good time with my friends. But the year in question, they called all of the students in for an assembly. These assemblies were typical, one of many sermons on how we all need to accept Jesus into our hearts and ask him for forgiveness for our many sins. However, this year, the counselors and staff decided to put a rather aggressive point on their sermon.
As the assembly started, they rolled a coffin out on the stage. I can’t quite explain the emotions I felt when this happened, but in short, at first I was profoundly upset. I couldn’t understand why I was this upset, and only in hindsight do I recognize that it was my grandmother’s recent death that had captured my emotions. But that sadness soon gave way to confusion, then anger – I was deeply angry that my emotions had been manipulated so easily.
I didn’t go up and look in the coffin – I vaguely realized that they had offered an invitation to the gathering for everyone to do so. Inside the coffin, I was told, was a full length mirror. It was an attempt to get these young teenagers to get a glimpse of their own mortality – And perhaps use it to get (keep, of course – How many times did one child need to commit to Christ, after all?) more converts to Christ.
I remember telling the kids, counselors, everyone around me that I was upset – upset at being manipulated, upset that they would do this to kids. I was counseled that they recognize that the message might not have been appropriate, but that it was all OK because it was in God’s name and they should be forgiven.
After this incident, I didn’t just throw out my faith. I wish I could say that I did – But what I did do is start questioning that my teachers had all of the answers. I was repeatedly advised as a child that if you had questions, the best thing you could do to get answers was to read the bible. And so I did exactly that.
Once you start reading the bible without someone telling you exactly what it means, it takes on a whole new dimension. I remember reading from Genesis to Revelations, and I can’t count the number of times I said to myself “THIS doesn’t make sense”. I remember comparing the genealogies of Christ, and noticing the gaps and other errors. I remember questioning the wisdom of worshipping a God who would punish all of humanity and their children for the actions of a few.
As I came to the close of my teenage years, I had decided that Jehovah either did not exist – Or if he did, he was a monster and not worthy of worship. I wasn’t ready to give up on the idea of a god, or many gods. The universe to me was far too complex to comprehend a mechanistic method of creation, one without purpose.
So, my next foray was into paganism. I met a woman who called herself a high priestess of Wicca. She “taught” me ways of envisioning energies, and “magick” – Which should be able to when properly applied help you make your way in a complex and confusing world. It was explained to me that spells were like prayer – That sometimes they worked, and sometimes they didn’t – And the outcome was simply based on either karma, or whether you worked them with the proper desires.
I found it interesting that none of the spells I ever “cast” had ever actually worked – Not in any objective way. Not only that, but I noticed the people around me who had done the same thing only really ever succeeded in life if they worked hard – I noticed very many who didn’t succeed at all, even though they cast spell after spell to improve their lives.
After awhile, I had to admit to myself that paganism was rather silly. Probably harmless, for the most part – Except for the people actively swindling other people out of their money. I started calling myself an “agnostic pagan” – Then shortening it to “agnostic”.
Right around this time, I divorced my first wife. I married my second, and I took notice of . . . → Read More: My Story – Journey from a Fundamentalist Christian to an out-and-proud Atheist
I don’t know how many people realize this – But something amazingly shocking has happened this year. There hasn’t been that much press on it, and I think it’s important that it be highlighted for everyone to see. A Mormon is running for president on the Republican ticket.
Does that make sense to anyone? If you have any background in the Christian religion, especially the more fundamentalist ones, you should be as shocked as I am. The Republican party has historically had a strong fundamentalist backing. In the past, fundamentalists have decried the Mormon faith – Calling it a cult, blasphemous, and many other far more denigrating things.
However, Republicans have done it. Whether it’s forming a coalition against Obama, or uniting under certain social policies, Republicans have been able to convince their constituents that Romney’s religion doesn’t matter. That in spite of his personal beliefs, Romney is capable of protecting those values they hold most dear. The “Reverend” Billy Graham has even gone so far as to drop the “Mormons are a cult” party line. When has Billy Graham ever changed his mind on anything in recent memory?
We aren’t talking about JFK being the first Catholic president, and it being a mark of progressiveness to support him. We’re talking about a conservative candidate, by all rights the Republican party should be tearing him apart on a philosophical basis. But, they clearly aren’t. They are quite willing to accept him in order to support the party.
This is the culmination of the “Big-Tent” policies of the Moral Majority from the 1980s, and however you feel personally about it, one can’t help but be impressed at the party not only gaining acceptance for Romney, but also perpetuating what is now a neck-and-neck race with a president who, objectively, is quite popular.
Christian groups have plenty that they disagree over. But as someone who cares about atheist activism, I think we have no where near the disagreements that they do. And yet, we obsess over things like labels and perpetuating in-group/out-group stereotyping.
This behavior is counter-productive to the secular movement. If we want to succeed, we need to be wise enough to learn from our philosophical opponents. We need to stop treating those we disagree with as something other than human, and start working with people who share our core values and objectives.
Many of us recognize that the Separation of Church and State MUST be absolute, and are working hard to maintain that. We can’t do that if we require loyalty tests to a particular creed before we work on our shared goals. We need to work on coalitions – Even if we maintain disagreements about our unrelated values, we need to work together to accomplish our shared goals. In this country, not all of our rights are protected, and the only way to protect them is with our numbers, working together.
Our ideological opponents have learned from the past. On our side, It’s heartening to see such diverse groups as American Atheists, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and the Center for Inquiry working together. If those groups which have historically deep divides can work together, why can’t we as individuals?.
Even groups that have fundamental disagreements can work together (See my example above about fundamentalists and Mormons.) We can also see this in how the Secular Coalition for America (and the Secular Coalition for Pennsylvania) can find a way to work with even religious groups to address the common purpose of keeping church and state separate. Many groups with vastly different ideological viewpoints find ways to work together, and it’s to that purpose we need to focus our time and effort.
As secular activists, we need to reject arbitrarily divisive labels. We need to find a way to communicate our core, shared values without hyping our differences. Of course we need to discuss and communicate with each other those areas in which we disagree, but we need to learn to keep those disagreements civil. Because if we don’t learn to work together, we will certainly lose those rights we’ve worked so hard to protect – together.
Recently, Melisa and I went on a cruise. Here’s a link to the photos, have a look! We had a fantastic time.
Alaskan Cruise: Seattle Space Needle http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2225252996866.2132459.1414000703
Alaskan Cruise: Departing Seattle http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2225260877063.2132461.1414000703
Alaskan Cruise: Juneau Glacier Exploration http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2225265157170.2132462.1414000703
Alaskan Cruise: Skagway http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2225276437452.2132463.1414000703
Alaskan Cruise: Endicott Arm Fjord http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2225310678308.2132465.1414000703
Alaskan Cruise: Victoria, BC http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2225338359000.2132466.1414000703
According to a Pew Report, 41% of Americans believe the rapture will happen by 2050 (presumably in their lifetime). Listen folks, there’s no difference between believing it will happen on a specific date, believing it will occur in your lifetime, or believing it will happen at all.
All of it is magical (and wishful) thinking. So, if you believe that the rapture will happen, and mock those who picked last Saturday as their ticket “home”, you should reconsider your position. 2,000 years of rapture predictions have happened with people thinking it will happen in their lifetime, and all of them have proven wrong.
What gives you the “faith” that God has picked YOUR life as one that Jesus will come back to earth for? Why do you insist that you are somehow more special than those other people? In fact, why do you have faith at all he will come back?
Brian Fields has not received any gifts yet