This is my ex-Christian story. My parents were both reared in very religious protestant farming families in Iowa.
I was born in 1957 while they were attending Los Angeles Chiropractic College.
We attended the church in which my parents were raised. This church was called
Christian Conventions, but if you asked a member what the name of their church
was, they would say they did not have a name. However, they would gladly refer
you to one of their missionaries, called workers, who could explain the religion
to you. In fact, I did not even know their name until I recently Googled them
based on their hymnal. Christian Convention members claim their religion does
not need a name because they were the original and only Christians. Christian
Conventions members believe that they are the only people going to heaven
because only they follow the Bible precisely.
During their Sunday worship at members’ houses, the members sang hymns off key, without a leader or a piano.
They took turns praying in old English and then took turns giving their
response to passages in the Bible. They did not pass a donation plate but they
pass around the grape juice and each person took turns picking a piece off a
slice of Wonder Bread. Children were not allowed to partake of the Wonder Bread.
I remember resenting the fact that I could not eat the bread. I could not wait
to be a grown up so I could do these adult activities. Not being old enough was
a recurrent theme in my Christian upbringing. Not being old enough became my
primary motivation for becoming a Christian although I did not realize it at
Christian Conventions members are not allowed to watch TV, dance, drink alcohol, smoke, or exchange gifts on
Christmas. The women cannot wear make up or cut their hair, but they could wear
black socks and long dresses. The men could wear whatever they wanted but they
could not grow out their facial hair. There are about a million of them
When my dad was about 20 years old, he was a missionary for the Christian Convention church. He was not allowed to
own anything. He and his partner just lived off the church members as he
travelled. He had a bad experience with his missionary partner so he joined the
army. Upon return, he married my mother and both enrolled in chiropractic college.
My parents had occasionally expressed doubts about whether Christian
Conventions members were the only ones going to heaven.
I did not have many friends as a child because I moved from school to school many times until I was eight. I
wanted to fit in with my peers, but I always felt I was different because of my
religion and because I was frequently the new kid in school. As a result, my
parents and the church people were a big part of my childhood. The adults in my
life were the people I was trying to please, but I was frustrated with them
because they never accepted me as an equal due to my youth.
When I was seven years old, my parents quit the Christian Conventions Church. When I was eight years old, my
mother converted to Southern Baptist while my dad stopped going to church. I
was told that I could be baptized, but only after I reached “the age of
accountability “ and “accepted Jesus as my savior.” Again, I was frustrated by
my young age and wanted to prove that I had reached “the age of accountability”
so I could be “saved” and baptized. One day, the preacher talked to me about
Jesus and I started crying. I was “saved” and was later baptized by being
dunked in water by the preacher.
My mother’s devotion to the church pushed a wedge between my parents. My dad wanted to do fun things like drive to
the mountains on a Sunday but my mother wanted to go to church instead and
accused my dad of taking her away from her church. They divorced when I was ten
and my dad moved away.
By age 11, I had become a bible-thumping evangelical Southern Baptist who carried a New Testament in his shirt pocket
for “leading people to the Lord.” I lead one friend to the Lord who later
became an Army chaplain. However, my heart was never into talking to people
about Jesus. I was worried about being seen as a Jesus freak.
In Sunday school, I remember asking questions about the Bible: How could God have never been created? What did God
do before creating the world, just sit around? What do we do in heaven? How
could Jesus be his own father? Many times when I did not understand the answer,
I was told that I would understand when I got older. I was again frustrated
because I was not old enough. As I aged, though, none of my questions were
answered and my understanding of the world did not become clearer as a
Then, in a sophomore high school world religions class, a guest
speaker preacher told a Moslem foreign exchange girl that she was going to hell
when she died. I began to question whether the God that I knew would issue
eternal punishment to an innocent religious girl who was raised in a
non-Christian religion. Later, in college, I learned about evolution and
finally I felt like I was starting to understand the universe. Finally things
made sense. I was old enough! I became a passive atheist; that is, I did not
try to convince anyone to be atheist or join any group.
I did spend a week with the Moonies, not knowing who it was. They lured me in with a meal and kept me there
for food and being with a bunch of seemingly happy people. Finally they started
to preach their dogma, so I left.
Since then, I have been drawn into religious life many times because I yearned for
fellowship and connection to something bigger than me. However, because I did
not believe in God, none of the religious episodes ever lasted very long.
Perhaps the most enduring religious phase was when I joined the Catholic Church
in order to be a part of the same church as my wife, my older son born in 1987,
and my younger son born in 1990.
It is very easy to be an atheist in the Catholic Church because there is very little discussion of beliefs. In
fact, during my become-a-catholic class, I told the priest that I had doubts
that God existed, but he said that was okay with him. After all, he probably
thought I would be contributing when the plate was passed. I could look and
feel very holy without saying anything. I just crossed myself, bowed before
entering the pew and put holy water on my forehead, but I felt very
disingenuous doing so. I did not have to look anyone in the eye and say that I
believed in God, like I would have to do as a Baptist.
Another religious experience as an atheist was that I found myself praying even though I know I was just talking
to myself. I rationalized that I was just talking to my subconscious mind. When
I tried to stop praying, I would get an empty purposeless feeling about not
having an imaginary friend to whom to talk. In 2005, I joined a Universalist
church that welcomed atheists, but I quit after they said it was expected that
I donate at least $100 per month.
When my younger son was about 13, going to Catholic (CCD) classes, he told me that his
religion teacher told the class that she saw ghosts and she shared specific
instances with the class. My son was rather disturbed about this ghost story
telling and I think that experience planted seeds of doubt in his mind about
God. Later, after my younger son became a confirmed Catholic at age 17, he told
me he had become an atheist. I found out from him that my other son was also
atheist. I decided to come out of the closet and be true to myself about my
atheism and I have not regretted my decision. However, I still sometimes ask
myself, what if I am wrong and I will be going to hell?
To fight these irrational thoughts, I became very active on Facebook, joining every Atheist group I could find and
contributing to discussions whenever possible. The more active I am as an
atheist, the less frequently I wonder whether I am going to hell. It helps me
heal from my Christianity when I think, talk, and write about how ridiculous it
is to believe in a book of magical tales of unknown authors written thousands
of years ago. Although I regret raising my boys as Catholics, I think they will
have a much easier time breaking away from irrational thoughts than I did.
I hope I can someday help someone break away from religion and irrationality. I hope I can help prevent someone
from worrying about whether God was telling him/her to do something or God is
leading him/her in a certain direction. All these kinds of thoughts are
stressful and totally unnecessary.
Recently, I read The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins) and A Letter to a Christian Nation (Sam Harris), which helped
me a lot in erasing my irrational doubts about atheism. I am currently reading
The God Virus (Darryl Ray), which is helping me to understand why I am having
difficulty breaking away from Christianity. Religion is behaves like a virus in
many ways and is very difficult to eradicate completely.
For example, I want to write an atheist book. Recently I found out I might be unemployed for the summer and I found
myself telling myself, “God must have set things up so I can write my book.” I
may have these viral episodes the rest of my life.