I was a pastor who left fundamentalism



In March of
1985 I had a “born again” experience.  I
was 18 years old, about to enter the Air Force, and had been pondering the
meaning of life for quite some time. 
When I “accepted Christ as my personal savior” everything fell into
place.  Suddenly, there were answers to
all of life’s questions.  I was on the
road to heaven and everybody who did not believe was destined for hell.  Some of my friends thought that I had lost my
mind.  In retrospect, they were probably right.



            I served for five years in the Air
Force.  Three of these years were in
Okinawa, Japan.  I had married my best
friend from high-school.  We joined a
large Independent, Fundamental Baptist Church. I was extremely active in many facets
of the ministry there.  My wife and I
worked in the bus ministry, went on visitation, taught Sunday School, and did
our best to tell people about our religion.



            I was discharged honorably and
enrolled in Bible College.  I worked as a
salesman part-time and studied full time. 
I completed the undergraduate program in four years.  Please understand that this period of time in
my life was not one of serious inquiry into the nature of the Bible . . .it was
a protracted indoctrination into the teachings of my denomination’s
understanding of the Bible.  I learned
all of the basic tenets of evangelical Christianity and truly believed that
there was not a question I could not answer. 
I was taught to hate psychology, Pentecostals, liberals, democrats, and
everybody else who did not agree with “us”. 
I had pat answers for everything. 
Yet something was still wrong . . . .



            I found to my chagrin that even though
I had the holy spirit living in me and I was doing all of the “right things,” I
would still look at women and crave having a beer every now and then.  I felt that if I studied harder so that I
truly understood the Bible I would be able to overcome all temptation.  Strangely, I also began to doubt whether or
not what I was studying was true.



            After college I began traveling from
church to church to raise funds to go to Chile as a missionary.  I visited about 200 churches and traveled
more than 100,000 miles in my vehicle. 
During this time I noticed that some of the churches in my denomination
did things a little differently than we did back at our “sending” church.  While women were prohibited from wearing
pants back home, I noticed that some other churches did not have a problem with
this. Even so, god did not strike them down. 
I even ran across a church that used a modern translation of the
Bible.  What heresy!  I was taught that only the King James Version
of the Bible was the “preserved word of god.” 
Yet here was a pastor telling me that he found it better to use a
translation with more modern English.  I
guess he really wanted his people to understand what the Bible said.  Looking back, this is probably a dangerous
idea:  When people read the bible and
really understand it they will probably RUN!  



            My family and I arrived in Chile on
November 26, 1996.  For the next 6 years
I would be away from the influence of the extreme fundamentalism that had “raised
me.”  I had always been interested in
studying psychology.  Even though I had
been taught that modern psychology was “of the devil” and one of my professors
had warned of a former student who had “turned his back on god to follow
psychology”, I was interested in how the human mind worked.  I enrolled in a distance learning master’s
program at a prominent Christian University. 



            While I studied human behavior I was
introduced to the concept of evolutionary psychology.  Of course, I had been taught that human
beings were created around 6,000 years ago, so, the idea of evolution was
anathema to me.  A fellow missionary let
me view some video tapes by a noted creationist.  While I watched, I could not help but notice
that the speaker seemed rather ignorant. 
I opted to begin studying evolution for myself.  I was in for the shock of my life!



            As I read and studied I began to
feel myself becoming convinced that the scientific community was indeed
correct.  I also began to notice myself
questioning my beliefs in the bible as the inerrant word of god.  This truly scared me:  If evolution were true then the early
chapters of genesis had to be nothing more than primitive legend:  myths. 
About this time I began to read Biblical Archaeology Review and was
terrified to learn that there was no physical evidence for Moses and the
Exodus, even though I was taught that there was in “college.” 



            As my faith began to untangle itself
from my mind I found that my style of ministry was changing as well.  My sermons began to take on a tone of helping
people improve their relationships.  We
introduced modern music into our style of worship.  I even began playing the electric guitar.  We then committed the unpardonable sin: We
made friends with Pentecostals.  Our
Baptist denomination would surely disown us.



            The more I studied, the less I
believed.  One day as I was reading I
realized that I no longer believed any of it . . .no heaven . . .no hell . .
.no voyeuristic holy spirit spying on my lustful thoughts . . . and no
god.  Yet here I was pastoring a
church.  I tried to convince myself that
I was wrong . . .I wanted to go back to believing, but I could not.  Pandora’s box had been opened.  I had eaten from the tree of knowledge . .
.and I LIKED IT.             



My family and I left Chile in 2002.  When I resigned as a missionary I told my
wife and kids that I no longer believed. 
I was REALLY nervous about that.  I
was also surprised when my wife told me that she had stopped believing quite
some time earlier.  My 5 children had no
problem casting off religion, though at least one of them professes to believe
in god today.    



            Since leaving Christianity my life
has never been happier.  As a cognitive
therapist, I can see that I am truly helping people with serious problems.  I no longer pass out Bible verses when people
come to be counseled.  I help my patients
in their struggles with depression, anxiety, and even the more serious illnesses
like Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. 
My children are all adults and I am proud of each one of them.



            People might be tempted to ask:  “Kevin, did you lose your salvation?”  My answer is always no.



            I gave it back.  

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Comment by Napoleon Bonaparte on November 7, 2011 at 1:09pm

Hi Kevin, that is a coincidence because I also gave up drinking nearly 2 years ago. One day it happened. I just didn't want it anymore. I now hate the taste and even the smell of alcohol. It's dogs piss. I take medication and smoke so that's enough damage/help for my mind and body.

My partner is from the Philippines and has had difficulty accepting that men can have close female friends as I do. I appreciate feminine beauty too.

Thank you for introducing yourself and welcome to Atheist Nexus.

Comment by Kevin Benbow on November 7, 2011 at 11:55am

Hi Napoleon:

I've been married for 26 years this week.  I stopped drinking almost two years ago for health reasons (I have MS and my meds are hard on my liver).  I still find myself looking at women, but I'm ok with it . . .better still, so is my wife.

Comment by Kevin Benbow on November 7, 2011 at 11:54am

Hi Jason:

I don't detect a "stink" between believers and nonbelievers, but then again most psychologists identify as agnostic or atheist.  Interestingly, most counselors (my profession) and social workers do profess some form of religion.

Personally, I don't have a problem with believing counselors, etc., unless they have a hidden agenda to foist their religion on others.  Just as it would be unethical for me to undermine a patient's faith in god, it would be unethical to foist one's religion on patients.

As long as they do not try to convert patients, they may very well be competent.  From my perspective, though, the real issue in counseling and psychology is not so much religion as it is pseudoscience.  Some therapies have very little empirical support, but are practiced widely (see quackwatch.org for some examples).

You are also correct about religion at times being identified as an effective coping tool.  The bigger picture, though, is that all humans are somewhat delusional in their thinking.  An example is how the male sex drive can cause men to interpret all friendly gestures from women as being flirtatious.  Some sexual harassment cases remind me of this. . .the male seems to be clueless and truly thinks the co-worker was interested in him.  In the same way, believing that someone is watching out for you may help some people make meaning out of life. While this may help some short term psychological problems, in extreme cases of fundamentalism it can really hijack the mind as Dr. Ray points out in his book. 

 

Comment by Kiljoy616 on November 7, 2011 at 1:04am
I like your answer, plain, simple and to the point. Love to see the looks you get.
Comment by Steph S. on November 6, 2011 at 12:58pm
Nice story -- thanks for the post!
Comment by Maruli Marulaki on November 6, 2011 at 9:56am
Thanks for sharing this story.
Comment by Sentient Biped on November 6, 2011 at 9:03am

Conmgrats to you and thanks for joining and posting your story!  As for the formatting, I thought you were writing a type of free-form poetry...

 

With former preachers like you, and Brother Richard, who runs this site, and Dan Barker, of FFRF, and other members who are former preachers, looks like we are in good company!

Comment by Napoleon Bonaparte on November 6, 2011 at 6:51am
What's the situation with drinking beer and looking at women now ?
Comment by Jason on November 6, 2011 at 5:51am

Wonderful story Kevin. I’m not usually one who reads and enjoys people's bio stories on how they came to atheism...but for some reason I enjoyed your story. I lived in Oki for a year. Beautiful Island.
Is there like a stink in the field of psychology between believers and non believers. I mean since religion is some sort of mental delusion….. How do you feel about psychologists who are believers? Do you believe them to be competent counselors or doctors? How do you feel that the APA avoids the discussion of religion as a mental delusion? In fact doesn’t the APA identify religion as a beneficial coping and healing tool for patients?

Comment by Kevin Benbow on November 6, 2011 at 1:10am
Egads!  I'm sorry for the formatting problem here!

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