Share your de-conversion story
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29-01-2015, 05:43 PM
RE: Share your de-conversion story
I was raised as a Baptist girl. Everything revolved around the church - twice on Sunday, once on Wednesday night, and GMG (Girls Missionary Guild) instead of Girl Scouts. Christian summer camp instead of the fun camping trips my friends got to enjoy. Vacation Bible School, and "Prayer Pals", which was similar to the "Big Sister" idea, only designed to further my indoctrination into the faith. I bought into it wholeheartedly, since it was my entire life, my entire social scene and what I was told was the "only way." But, in reality, I bought into it because I was scared to death. I was scared of hell and eternal damnation. I was scared for my school friends who weren't Baptist (even the other protestants were suspect). We were shown that horrible film "Thief in the Night" and I had nightmares for months. Living in southern California, we often experienced major fire events, mudslides and other natural disasters (like the earthquake in 1971) that convinced me God was going to visit his wrath on me. I was TERRIFIED. My parents could not understand how I could be so frightened all of the time. I refused to sleep facing my doorway because I was so scared I would see Satan standing there waiting for me.

My parents had a friend who was convinced he used to be a Satan-worshipper. He would, periodically, get up in front of church and tell his story of his former possession. His stories were horrifying and only further served to fan the flames of my abject fear. This is all terrible, and should be enough to make me terribly angry today, but the very worst of it was being told, over and over, how worthless I was. I was a sinner, and completely worthless without a personal relationship with Jesus. That personal relationship was supposed to save me, give me peace, happiness, and a profound joy of life. I went through the process I thought I was supposed to - I went forward that morning when I was about 7 or 8 years old, while the congregation was singing "Just As I Am" and the pastor was fervently calling for us to repent and show our acceptance. I wanted to be a part of that, so forward I went. I wanted my parents to be proud of me for showing my devotion. But guess what? I didn't feel any different. Nothing changed, the fear didn't go away. Not even on the day that I was baptized (by immersion, because that is what "real Christians" do). I must truly be worthless, because even though I had accepted Jesus, he had not accepted me, because nothing changed! I didn't feel renewed, I didn't feel free, or less scared. I still felt worthless and ashamed.

This did not stop me from trying, for several more years, to find that feeling that I was supposed to have. I persisted throughout high school and college. I voraciously read apologist literature, trying to prove to myself that what I believed was true. I delved deeply into the faith, listened to Christian radio every day, and really tried. I started playing the piano at age 11, and quickly became quite good at it. Soon I was playing at church, and for many other religious events. I traveled throughout the mid-west (my father had relocated my family to Minnesota in the mid-1970s) playing piano at many churches and events. Yet I still could NOT find that feeling that I so craved, and I never felt I truly fit in anywhere. I was a failure, a worthless pile of shit. No amount of accolades or excellent grades or honor societies or being a finalist in piano competitions could give me what I sought. I was told that Jesus would fulfill me, but he NEVER did, no matter how hard I tried. I sought and sought, and soon became kind of an outsider, one that people "prayed for", one who routinely fought long and nasty fights with my father over ANYTHING. I was just so frustrated and worthless.

I think the first real foundation stone that cracked was when I moved away to college for the first time. I had a roommate who was a Marxist - a real, living, breathing Marxist! She was one of the most wonderful people I had ever met. She had lived in Mexico and in Central America for a year, and had met her fiancé, an El Salvadorian leftist leader in the FMLN. I was enamored with these genuine, awesome people, and had a very hard time reconciling what I had been taught about these "awful" people with the reality that they were actually good, kind, and very articulate. My eyes began to open. I began to listen to the other side of things, and soon realized what a crock of shit the Reagan agenda actually was. When my parents found out I was no longer a "good republican", they were horrified. But, at least, I was still a Christian! I could be saved yet. No, I didn't become a Marxist, or truly embrace any other political agenda in totality, I just realized that there was more out there than what I had been told, in no uncertain terms, was the "right way to vote". Yes, today I am a full-fledged progressive liberal (to the horror of my parents), but it was a process of learning, listening, reading, and yes, reasoning!

The evangelical, fundamentalist dogma, however, took longer to crack. I continued to cling to it for many more years, although I DID marry a man who was simply a deist, and not happy to attend church with me. My parents were NOT happy about this, but I loved him so deeply I could not lose him over a verse in the Bible that told me not to be "unequally yoked". To me, he was definitely equal, and I found a way to squash that part of my belief system. Unfortunately, the worthlessness and shame were deeply ingrained in my psyche, and eventually my marriage didn't work out. My sexuality had been so deeply repressed I had way too much shame to enjoy a healthy sex life, and I quit playing piano, a great love of mine, and slowly I lost everything that was uniquely mine. I felt I HAD to start over, and find myself again, somehow. I tried going back to church... maybe someone could help me get that "feeling" that I craved - maybe I would actually find Jesus this time. Maybe I had simply gone to the wrong place all those years. I had two young daughters by this time, and I thought perhaps I should take them to Sunday School. I found a place that seemed to be fun, and got involved in the music there - they quickly accepted my talents and I was very happy to play the piano again. But after a few months, it became obvious that even there, I did not fit. A divorced single mom does not fit that mold. I quit going, much to my mother's chagrin.

I started thinking long and hard about how I should raise my daughters. My mother desperately wanted me to raise them in the church. Something in me just couldn't do that - I couldn't see them having no other option! I had many, many arguments with my mother over my final decision to "leave the decision up to them, when they were old enough to make it for themselves." She did her best to give them Bibles, watch Veggie Tales with them, and take them to church with her if she had them on Sundays. That was okay with me, because I knew they were exposed to other things as well, and I talked to them often about other realities and told them over and over "you can choose what you want, after you have more information and are old enough to decide". They went to other churches with other friends, but most often, they spent Sundays with their other grandparents and simply got to be kids, drawing, being creative, playing, and being spoiled by a set of loving, wonderful, non-religious grandparents.

Fast forward to a few years ago - both of my daughters were in high school, and announced to me that they were atheists. Wow, what a shock to me! I still clung to a belief in some sort of higher power, although my fundamentalist feelings were mostly busted due to massive research I had pursued and many, many exciting conversations my daughters and I had about science and discovery. I still had an overwhelming sense of worthlessness, however, and it led to a couple of personally devastating events, being fired from a great job, and being dumped by the man I loved. All in the same week. This was the most significant turning point in my life. Something had to change, and THIS TIME, I would not turn to religion. I turned inward, and asked myself WHO I WAS and why was it that I was trying to find my worth outside of myself, through some mystical power that had never worked before. I re-discovered music, and went back to my classical roots that I had so loved before. I met a fabulous woman who was a kindred spirit, and an incredible musician. She was the first person in my life who accepted me for who I was, and who didn't try to get me to use my music for "the Lord". We hit it off, and through her friendship and my renewed pursuit of music, this time without baggage or expectations, I began to heal. I finally embraced the fact that Jesus would never be real to me.

I started watching Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, the late Christopher Hitchens, and the like, and I especially enjoy the Thinking Atheist. There is so much content that is comforting to me, and continues to open my eyes, and make me feel so much less alone. It helps me establish my worth. My daughters are amazing... they have thrived in their unbelief, my oldest attends University, and my youngest is about to graduate valedictorian from a large southern California high school. They read voraciously and continue to enlighten me with their vast knowledge. They are so grateful to me for not indoctrinating them, and I am so relieved that I chose not to. For me, life is just starting, after so many years of darkness, fear, and self-loathing.

Yes, I am very angry now, for what I feel was taken from me, but much of that anger is turned toward myself, for being so duped by well-meaning but CLUELESS people. It is a process, but one that I embrace, and one I look forward to.
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30-01-2015, 05:35 PM
RE: Share your de-conversion story
I hope I don't get into trouble posting here. My de-conversion process is still....well, still in process...? Ha! Undecided

I was raised in an extremely strict pentacostal fundamentalist church. In fact, the word "strict" doesn't even come close to accurately describing the hell of indoctrination (as I now look back) that I went through and that others are still going through. For starters: both sexes were encouraged to cover up; men would not wear shorts or even short sleeved shirts. Hair could not be kept long, had to be above the collar, etc. Women were not allowed to wear pants, make-up, jewelry, shave their legs, cut their hair, etc. TV's were strongly discouraged, movies and television shows were thought of as evil. I was often told that If i was in a movie theater and the rapture took place, I would miss it and be left here to face the anti-christ. My self-esteem suffered indubitably. I almost didn't go to college because even that was discouraged since the "liberal" mindset of the masses would inherently challenge, if not even change, my indoctrination forever. I was taught that if I would leave the church to go to another church, because of the wealth of knowledge that had been gifted to me through god that no other church could attain, I would be disowning god and would be sent to "outer darkness" for eternity. A place much worse than hell apparently. The mother church of our group of churches had an operating committee set up called "The Witness Committee". One could schedule an appointment to travel to the church and stand before the committee to receive "the mind of god" on many situations in his/her life. It was based from the OT version of the Urim and Thummim which gave the Children of Israel direction in their life. For instance, one would stand before this committee and they would start praying over you about a certain area, let's say, someone you wanted to date or a college you may have wanted to attend. After praying, much of the prayerwas in tongues, each person would describe what he / she "saw" during the prayer and lead you to the destination that god desired of you. Yes, this was some f*cked up sh*t. (am I allowed to say that here? hahaha).

In time I eventually stopped attending this church cold turkey. It was hard though because I had been a worship leader from 16-24 years of age. I went through a period where I did not attend church at all for at least two years. Then I felt guilty and started attending again (a different church that was more liberal). Fast forward 10 years and two churches later...both of which I have held part time or staff positions on a worship team while working full time in my career of choice. I stopped and did a good hard look at my life. I decided that even though I knew a lot of principles about the bible and could give the biblical answer to many questions I thought that If faced with the proposition of defending my faith, I couldn't do it. This started me on a year long journey which I am still on....i started with apologetics and felt, wow, now i'm getting somewhere...but then I started seeing flaws in the reasoning and started reading Hitchens, Dawkins, Barker, Ehrman, McGowan, and many others. That was when my house of cards preceded to tumble. Down it came and down it is still coming.

I spoke with other friends who had become atheists. I spoke with christians who had went through doubt and offered up books like A Case for Christ and Evidence that Demands a Verdict. However, I started to realize that the bible wasn't the inerrant word of god. There were mistakes, mis-translations, human elements, etc that were written by very human people, in context, of the ideals they wished to portray. I started to see that the very god I served was in fact the devil (pun intended) who laid atrocity upon atrocity over human beings just like me; people with families; sons, daughters, uncles and aunts. A god who ordered children killed, women to be prostituted and slaves to be kept. A god who ordereda servant who was perfect in his eyes to endure suffering that most of us couldn't imagine all over a f*cking bet with the devil and then crushed the servant to verbal powder when he was told to admit he had done wrong even though he hadn't. A god who killed this servant's children but oh...made it better by giving him 10 more as if the latter ten could replace the previous. A god who had so much love for his own son that he set up a blood thirsty crazed system that his own son had to die. A god who damned every human being to hell because of a temptation he put into place in a alleged garden in the first place. An infinite punishment for finite wrong-doings that completely denigrate an entire human race. As I saw this unfold before my eyes, I slowly began to realize that even if said god existed I could not worship one who so easily and graciously beguiles us with these stories and punishments. And at this particular point in time, this is where I am at, still wanting with all my mind to believe because not believing is so foreign to me; still attending church with my family so that I don't rock the boat and kill my marriage. Still playing on our church's worship team several times a month in front of thousands and thousands of people, living a lie, and pretending like I'm there for myself when that is the last thing on my list. The irony of it all is that my heart is growing bigger and fonder for the ones I love, my family, my children, my wife....because I now realize it is quite likely that this life is all we have and I want to make the world a better place than it was when I entered it, even if in my own small little way. Smile Heart

Thanks for reading...
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18-02-2015, 01:29 AM
RE: Share your de-conversion story
Mine is probably one of the less interesting stories. As I mentioned in my first post in these forums, I've never been especially religious. There were times, when I was a child, my mother would take us to various Baptist churches, but it was on very infrequent basis. I didn't pay attention to much of what was being said, and my mother rarely spoke of any specific beliefs in God at home.

I had contracted rheumatic fever as a child, and afterwards, though I had already been treated by doctors, one day I was brought up to the front of a church so that everyone could pray for me to be healed. I didn't understand why they were praying. It seemed like a waste of time.

I'd always had a fondness for learning about the world around me, and would often spend my time browsing through our very out of date set of encyclopedias. It never felt that there was a God above responsible for everything. I do have to admit that one point in my life, I sort of bought into some New Age pseudoscience type speculations. I even saw a psychic once, but immediately felt afterwards that she was just saying a bunch of things that didn't have anything to do with my life. I suppose I was looking for a source of comfort. I came to realize that those things were shams, and just a way for others to take advantage of our insecurities.

For the most part I had been quiet about my lack of belief, and it never became an issue which caused me any specific problems. Now I do worry more about how some segments of society want to push their religious beliefs on everyone else, and feel a need to resist those efforts.
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18-02-2015, 07:44 PM
RE: Share your de-conversion story
I was a christian for about 14 years. I was thought creation in first grade and a lot about god until 5th grade or something.
I always though was extremely into astronomy and archaeology. I loved dinosaur and sci-fi movies A LOT. My grandfather is an atheist and has been teaching me everything he knows
about science (he was my master and I was his padawan). I was always very interesting of what he had to say to me and he has been giving me science books and every week a magazine
called "lifandi vísindi" in Icelandic (where I'm from) translated into "Living science" that he has read.

Since I've been getting better at english I've started watching a lot of documentaries and TV shows about astronomy and archaeology (thinking about getting to know a little more about the quantum theory aswell). I also learned that christianity was not the only religion. So about the age of 14 I started to ask myself

"How do I know that my god is the one true god but all the others are fake, what if I am wrong and the muslims or the hindus or any other religion is right. It is more likely that they are all wrong. If there was a god there would only be one religion"

And after about a year of thinking I finally admitted to myself that I am an agnostic atheist. If there is a creator I don't think it would be anyone we have yet thought of.
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19-02-2015, 09:03 PM
RE: Share your de-conversion story
(29-01-2015 05:43 PM)tln88 Wrote:  Yes, I am very angry now, for what I feel was taken from me, but much of that anger is turned toward myself, for being so duped by well-meaning but CLUELESS people. It is a process, but one that I embrace, and one I look forward to.
I totally understand, but do cut yourself some slack. My fundamentalist days were not my proudest moments either, but I was converted before my sixth birthday. What was I supposed to do -- even if I could accept that my parents, teachers, and mentors were, as you say, CLUELESS? That's a lot for a child to take on board, much less do anything about.

Besides, you deserve kudos for not being able to bring yourself to limit your children's thinking -- for not indoctrinating them. And for loving them even when they became atheists. In fact, if they had the courage to tell you of their decision while still under your roof it's clear that you did a great job of unconditionally loving them.

And now you know better than to think of yourself as worthless. Old thought habits die hard, but you'll overcome them.
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23-02-2015, 10:38 AM
RE: Share your de-conversion story
I was raised by my mother who is a Christian, but I never became a Christian until I was 16. I was Agnostic until then. Living as a Christian was hard, but that wasn't the reason why I de-converted.

Whenever I prayed, it felt like there was a wall between me and God. Nothing happened, even when I waited for months. I then studied the Bible and realised that there was a lot that I didn't agree with (homosexuality being an abomination etc.).

I was judged within the church for my views. I was open about my views on homosexuality and how there is nothing wrong with it. Even in the Christian youth group I attended. The British government was discussing homosexual marriage becoming legal and churches and youth groups were signing a petition to stop it from happening. I was the only one who didn't sign it, even when it was shoved in front of me and I was told to sign it. I asserted them of my views on the matter and they judged me for it.

They even judged me on my music taste. They knew I listened to heavy music. I mentioned a band called Slipknot. They straight away called them Satanic. I asked how they were Satanic. They said the band members said so. I asked when. They couldn't answer the question. They kept on saying; "the way the vocals are portrayed, it's the way demons talk", which lead to a heated debate.

They said that God is holy, merciful, all good. Then why would he burn down an entire city all because of homosexuality? Why would he flood the entire planet to start again because everything went wrong? If he made everything the way it is, shouldn't he deal with it instead of scrapping everything he made? Also, if the Jews where his chosen people, why would he send his son who started a new religion? It just doesn't make sense. There were other contradictions as well. Especially the multiple translations of the Bible which doesn't help reliability.

Yeah, I admit. I made a few mistakes in church. I swore once by accident and apologised for it straight away. I missed a few deadline dates on returning books to the church library. But I never asked to be judged for my views. I never asked to be lied about throughout the church.

After almost a year, I de-converted back to Agnosticism, then two years later to Atheism. I announced both of them publicly. Now, I'm going to consider LaVeyan Satanism after further study. If I do become a Satanist, I plan to make a public announcement of that too. Not a lot of people will like it, but they'll have to deal with it.
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29-03-2015, 06:01 PM (This post was last modified: 29-03-2015 06:07 PM by pitar.)
RE: Share your de-conversion story
I was 8 years old. I developed a brain early.

My father as a nuclear bomber pilot, my mother a military wife, my older sister a self-centered apple of the parent 's eye, my little brother pretty much the family dunce and my 1 year old youngest sister the family focus. That was 1963. This family dressed up and packed off every sunday to act pious at the base chapel, then go to the officer's mess hall for breakfast and back home to base housing.

What exactly sparked the "de-conversion" as it's called here, was an evolved sequence of events and thinking. My mom put me into religious training and I was very proud of that. I was given my own bible and rosary beads (black) for the mission of attaining the ceremonial 1st holy communion. (Retrospectively speaking, catholics sure had a lot of ceremonial silliness they packed into their religion.) Anyway, it was at that time when I started thinking of my pop, his job and his mindset about it and his faith. I had just been given the task of memorizing the 10 commandments, which was a huge undertaking for a kid to grasp much less memorize.

My Pop's job was to kill people. One of the commandments dictated otherwise. Big words now but those were my kid-thoughts of the time. I also knew he was a combat veteran of two previous wars so many people died by his hand. I began thinking a lot about that and how a person could be devout and yet kill without consequence. It was then that I realized that there were no consequences because forgiveness was always standing by. He could confess his sins at Saturday confession and, voila, he'd be a man free of sin. That thought comforted me some. The only trouble was he never went to confession. Neither did my mom. WTF?

Anyway, I began thinking of the number of combat veterans going to church on sundays, who I never saw at the confessionals on Saturdays, but receiving the sacrament at mass. This completely befuddled the logic of an 8 year old attempting to complete his initial religious training in the presence of a church congregation that represented anything but that training.

For the sake of brevity let's just say that I realized the religion was fallible and largely dismissed its credibility. Shortly after that I realized that the idea of a god was in answer to the needs of the people as they concocted it to be and it also went the way of the Dodo in my brain.

By 9 years old I was a very determined budding atheist warrior. By the time I was 12 my folks knew I was atheist but that didn't deter my mom from insisting I complete my religious training and become a confirmed catholic. Initially, I fought her but realized it didn't matter so I went along with the game and went through the ritual silliness yet again.

That's about it.

Let me conclude by saying that since my combative atheist days I've come to realize the comfort belief systems provide the weak of mind. I have come to feel sympathy for them and currently view them as babies with pacifiers. While I take no remorse for attacking abusive clergymen and women within the ranks of their belief systems, I view the adherents of those systems (the sheep) as victims of a sham that deep down I feel they hold in question under a burden of hope and probably moments of despair. I cannot in good conscience attempt to erase the hopes they hang onto that put purpose in their lives.

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29-03-2015, 08:56 PM
RE: Share your de-conversion story
My story kind of starts, for lack of a better word, odd. First of all, I never really had a strong faith. Not that I didn't believe, I just didn't have a strong opinion of religion even though I grew up in a Christian household. I always found going to church annoying and really, the only thing I got excited about on Sundays were the fact that we always went out to eat after church. I totally cared more about food than about mouthing along to cheesy hymns. Tongue

Fast forward to about 7 months ago, my boyfriend's brother had just gotten an Oculus Rift and he downloaded some starter programs for it. While a lot of them were really neat and made virtual reality something to get lost in, he then showed us a demo that allowed us to kind of float in space and see all of the planets to scale. Then it started showing planets/stars/suns that were like a thousand times bigger than our own sun and I felt. so. small. I was completely mindblown. Then I later saw an article online that had all sorts of incredible facts about the universe and tons of other things that continued to make me feel like a speck of dust. I just kept saying over and over, "There's no way." There's no way that out of all of the billions of planets and all of the billions of galaxies that we are the only ones. That we somehow have everything all figured out. This was the beginning of the culture shock I was about to go through.

While this was going on with me, one of my best friends was going through the exact opposite experience. She was never religious but she had more of a hippie personality. She started getting more into conspiracy theories around the time she became pregnant and then her boyfriend's dad invited them to church and she said that's where she learned "the truth." She became extremely crazy with her beliefs with talks about FEMA camps, microchips, the Illuminati, etc. She's also became a hardcore anti-vaxxer and will only homeschool her children. We got into a lot of arguments over a lot of the changes she was going through and a big part of what really tipped me over to becoming an atheist was when I started researching and finding my own answers to argue with her with. Though her responses were either "Well you don't own your own thoughts. That's the work of the devil." or her and her boyfriend would come up with some "backed up science" lingo that unfortunately went over my head because I was still learning things for myself. But with backed up science talk or not, it doesn't take a scientifically literate person to be able to point out the simplest contradictions in the bible.

So that's pretty much my story. I'm not too far into my research yet but I'm reading what I can and have a whole Amazon wishlist full of books I'm waiting to gradually buy! Anyone with any recommended material would be greatly appreciated! So far I've gotten Bill Nye's Undeniable, The God Delusion, and God is NOT Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

We are eternal beings. Endings are not in our destiny.
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31-03-2015, 10:33 PM
RE: Share your de-conversion story
As I read through these deconversion stories, I see bits and pieces of my own experience scattered throughout. I grew up in a christian home. I attended christian school. I went to church twice a week for years. I attended the religious summer camps (which I always kind of enjoyed because of the outdoor activities aspect of it). As I got further along in school and especially when I changed to public school at the end of junior high, science began to promote tiny cracks in my otherwise solid religious foundation. By the time I graduated high school, I knew everything the church taught about science was pretty much a lie. That, coupled with inconsistencies in the bible that no one could explain, pretty much left me on the outside looking in and for the next 20 years I was just going through the motions. I went to church a few times a month, but I never really listened to what was being said. I probably could have gone another 20 years like that but something snapped me out of it. I lost my father and grandfather in the same year. It pushed me over the edge. My ambivalence turned to anger. There was no explaining this. And being told it was part of god's will made me want to throat punch someone. That's when I broke free. I had held on for years, afraid to just let go. I could kick myself for not letting go sooner, but I'm more focused on living each day and appreciating what I have.
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02-04-2015, 04:16 PM
RE: Share your de-conversion story
This is going to be long... However, I hope it provides some useful insight into the challenges of freeing the minds of those living in the rural South of the USA. If not insightful, it should at least be mildly entertaining.

I grew up in rural Alabama, in a quaint little Free Holiness community. However, my blue-collar family attended a Southern Baptist church located in a nearby small town. Our church was a civilized form of Baptist belief. We did not handle snakes or drink poison. However, we also did not dance, drink alcohol, or listen to secular music. We attended services Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, summer vacation bible school and of course, revivals. Yes, some of the revivals were in tents and many included fantastic potluck dinners after the service.

I was "saved" at the age of 9. At the age of 14 I thought I was being "called" into some sort of ministry. I walked the aisle one evening at a revival and said as much to the preacher. The preacher then had me stand beside him in front of the congregation while he announced, to my well-concealed horror, that I had just accepted the call to preach the gospel. I had to assume that his error was simply the voice of God making clear what I was supposed to do with my life. I did not protest for fear of being eaten whole by the Appalachian foothills equivalent of Jonah's whale.

Before I dive into my brief career as a teenaged evangelical preacher, let me first go back in time and set the stage for what would become the focus of my “ministry”.
During my entire life to this point, I had never personally met a single person who was not white and did not profess to be some sort of Christian. On this tiny island of cultural isolation that I dwelt, my worldview became terribly skewed. As far I knew, Muslims were a myth, Dungeons & Dragons was devil-worship, gay people were sick, and black people lived in that town over by the lake and were not friendly. Now, I knew that there were, in fact, black people that lived there because I had seen them with my own eyes on many occasions while passing through the town headed to the lake to fish and camp. As to their friendliness, or lack thereof, I had only the word of "they" to go on and I was not inclined to test the proposition myself.

In a fortunate break from local societal norms, however, my parents were not outwardly racist. While my father may have used the N word a few times over the years, he never disparaged other people solely on their skin color or ethnicity. That's not to say they did not hold any stereotypical beliefs. It is just that they were at least compassionate enough to think that talking about it was mean. If I did learn one good virtue from my parents, it was compassion. I distinctly recall how I once earned a pretty good whippin' for thumping a grasshopper into the fire one evening when we were burning the brush pile out back. You might kill a thousand grass-hoppers in one afternoon of mowing the grass, but thumping one in the fire just for kicks was wholly frowned upon.

One day when I was around 9 or 10 years old, we were riding back from a trip into town and there, taped to the stop sign just up the road from my house, was a hand-written sign that said, "KKK Rally Friday Night at 6pm". Then, in smaller print, there was something indicating that the purpose of the virtuous gathering was to protest the influx of Jews into a nearby town. Ironically, it was the same town where all the black people lived. I guess they had decided that the black folks were either ok, or just too entrenched to be worth the effort. Regardless, I remember my amazement that real-life, straight-out-of-the-old-testament Jews were living just down the road. Furthermore, I wondered why the KKK cared. I didn’t know that Jewish people weren’t considered white people and I thought the KKK only hated black people.
That Friday night, my dad told me to get in the truck. I am not sure what his motivations were, and I have never asked, but he drove us out to the nearby farm where the advertised rally was taking place. There were clunkers parked all along the edge of the single lane gravel road. The dead-end little pig trail was lined with a ragged barbed wire fence on one side and a tall hedge of mimosa trees, wild privet and blackberry briars on the other.

My dad pulled off the road, killed the engine, and cranked his window down so we could hear. Because of all the weeds and brush grown up around the field where the rally was taking place, we couldn’t see anything. However, they were using a bullhorn and we sat there for a while and eavesdropped. A lot of stupid things were said, the specifics of which I do not remember. The words “God”, “damned”, “Hell” and several derogatory terms which I had never even heard of received plenty of air time. One particular part of it has stayed with me though.

The sun was setting and the thick southern drawl that had been babbling over the loudspeaker for the last 10 or 15 minutes finally issued this statement, “Ok, it’s gettin’ time to burn the cross. I need all robed clan members to come to the stage.”
During the pause that followed I came to the realization that this was not the casual gathering of rednecks out in a hay field that I had imagined. They actually had a stage? Sure, it was probably a flatbed trailer or something, but they had a stage!
The bullhorn squealed and the voice, speaking with the now familiar drawl but with a little more emphasis, admonished the gathering, “Come on y’all. I need all robed clan members to the stage so we can burn the cross.”

There was another pregnant pause. My god, they were wearing actual robes and were going to burn an actual cross! This was like something out of my 4th period history class and here I was witnessing it firsthand, audibly at least. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I looked to my dad who just shushed me and whispered “Listen!”

The next time the voice spoke, it spoke loudly and with a twang of irritation declared, “I need all SOBER, robed clan members to come to the stage now!”
For a second, it was almost funny. But, a few minutes later, this last pause was interrupted by a sudden crackling sound which was soon accompanied by a cacophony of whoops and hollers. An ugly flickering of yellow and orange flames rose from behind the wall of foliage that had until now shielded me from the reality of this gross procession. I stared numbly and my ears started to ring as though someone had fired a shotgun off right by my head. If not for the flames I could have easily forgotten that voice as one would a dream. But the flames had brought it to life and they burned it into my brain like a scar that reminds one why they should never again touch a hot iron skillet.

After what seemed like an eternity, my dad had apparently seen enough and cranked the truck. We drove silently off into the darkness. As disturbed as I was by the realization that hate of this nature still existed, it did not occur to me to consider my fellow humans who were the object of this hatred. I could only grasp that I did not want any part in the dealing of it. What these people were preaching and my idea of God, whose name they invoked in justification of their cause, presented me with an incongruity which I had heretofore never encountered. My God would not do that. My Bible does not say that… does it?

It was a few years later, I was maybe 12, when a black family moved into my school district. In my lifetime, that had never happened before. The family’s home was on my bus route and my wrinkled old bus driver drove past two boys waiting by the road as if they weren’t even there – two days in a row. The third day the boys didn’t even come out. Over the weekend a cross was burned in this family’s front yard and on at least one occasion someone fired shots into the front of the house. The Monday bus ride gave all of us kids a close up view of the results. The house sat abandoned, bearing the pock marks in its siding and the charred spot in the yard like a scarlet letter of shame.

Did I mention that this was the late 1980’s when all of this took place?

When the time came for me to stand up in front of the church in the pulpit, I had spent weeks preparing for my message. I had taken copious notes and had practiced in front of the mirror so much that I thought I could rival even Billy Graham with my magnificent delivery. My message lasted about 5 minutes and consisted mostly of me muttering something about how God is Love. We sang “Just As I Am” and I then I ran off to the bathroom and puked.

There would be a couple more opportunities after that to hone my speaking skills and conquer my fear of the pulpit. While I managed to at least double the duration of my message, I was unable to shed my discomfort that it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a square peg being beaten by the big Baptist hammer down into a tiny round hole. Nevertheless, I was presented with a certificate of ordination by my pastor and the local Southern Baptist leadership. Of course, in time I would be expected to attend seminary. But, I was officially an authority on the word of God!

The next school year I moved away to attend a residential high school over 300 miles away from home and my world suddenly got a whole lot bigger. The school I attended attracted students from all over the state. There were students who were atheist, black, Catholic, Asian, Hindu, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim and more. My roommate was an agnostic Jew. I didn’t even know what the word “agnostic” meant! While I didn’t deny my faith, I certainly didn’t make a big deal about it. I also never breathed a word about being a preacher. I wasn’t worried about what other people thought; I was just never comfortable with it myself. I had this fresh start with no expectations and I didn’t want to impose any on myself.

This school was an island of a different sort. This was an island isolated from judgment and sameness. We were all dumped in together, separated from our various sources of influence and given freedom to explore. I stayed at school over weekends and made friends with the kinds of people of whose existence wouldn’t have even seemed real just a few months prior. I watched a Wiccan talk to a candle, played Dungeons & Dragons and listened to music fit only for devil worshipers and no one judged.

Of course, I also met a few girls and one of them would end up becoming my wife. She also had a Southern Baptist upbringing. But, neither of us had any deep interest in our faith at that point in time. After high school we attended college together, married and settled in one of the larger cities in Alabama.

After a few years of marriage and a few bumps along the way, my wife and I decided that the best way to resolve our issues was to get back into church. We jumped in with both feet. It wasn’t long before I felt that familiar desire to be more involved again. There would be no preaching this time!! Instead, I found opportunities to serve in my church as a layperson. I taught Sunday school classes, served on committees, and played in the band. However, there were now several topics where I could not immediately reconcile what I knew from science and what the Bible said.

By accident one day, I was wondering in a bookstore and picked up Shermer’s book, Why People Believe Weird Things. This book equipped me with a healthy dose of skepticism along with a few tools to combat some of the dumb things people I knew bought into like, you know, Power Balance Bracelets. It wouldn’t be long however, before I would turn a skeptical eye to my own personal religion.

I knew deep-down that there were little threads that once tugged had the potential to unravel the entire fabric of my belief and I had avoided them at all costs. I brushed off evolution by rationalizing that surely God could have used evolution as part of his creation process. I rationalized the age of the earth and the universe by saying that man’s definition of a day and what God considered a day were not the same. I explained away Old Testament non-sense as “old covenant” and New Testament non-sense as a product of the social norms at the time. I told myself that the emotional charge from worship was evidence enough for faith. We even changed denominations, switching to Methodist, so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about drinking a beer.

I redoubled my efforts and dove into the Bible. I actually read the whole thing. Twice! This time I began to actually study some of the things that I had previously read and never questioned. But now, my inner-skeptic kept screaming “BS!” over and over again. As much as I tried to believe, reason slowly dawned on my mind like sunshine on a humid summer morning and burned away the fog of faith until it was gone. There I stood, naked and alone in the bright sunshine – and it was glorious!

But now it’s my dirty little secret. For the last 2 or 3 years I have been in the closet. There is a part of me that, even until just recently, still wanted to believe. I have already stopped going to church and my wife and kids have both stopped going as well. However, she has recently expressed a desire to try a new church. She is hoping, I think, to rekindle her spirituality. On the other hand, I am ready to abandon the farce altogether. Just a few days ago, for the first time ever, I said aloud what I had been thinking for so long. No one was around to hear it, but I said it nonetheless. I do not believe in God. I still get butterflies in my stomach just typing it.

But, how do I tell my wife? What will she think of me? What about my kids? My oldest daughter nearly fell apart two years ago when she found out there was no Easter bunny. Would telling her there is no God destroy her psyche? All of our friends are Christian and all of my daughters’ friends have Christian parents. Will my little girls lose their friends?

In our culture, being a good Christian is a foundational requirement of being a good leader. I am in a leadership position at my company in a career I have cultivated for almost 20 years. My manager and his manager and most of the leadership of this company are religious. I don’t think they would intentionally discriminate. But, if they found out I am an atheist, I fear they would subconsciously question my abilities to lead.

I am 38 years old. I do not want to rebuild my life from scratch but I am afraid that may very well be what happens.

I just recently read Dawkins’ The God Delusion and have begun listening to The Thinking Atheist podcast. I am searching for guidance.

This inner turmoil is eating me alive.

I hope someone reads this, but not any one I know. Not yet.

I just wanted to let you know that I love you even though you aren't naked right now. Heart
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