My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 8

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 7 click here.

              “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”     – Ephesians 5:25  

At first it seemed like being back in Iowa would be very good for me. Starting out we lived in an upstairs room at my grandparents house.  It was relaxing and good to be back with family but the nightmares and the anxiety attacks didn’t go away. I would awake numerous times in the middle of the night, cold with sweat, and my heart beating rapidly. During the day I would have someone walk up behind me, or hear a loud noise, and my heart would nearly stop. I had to find some way to deal with the anxiety that I was experiencing and so I went to the doctor.

About six months prior to this I had been on Zoloft due to stress at work, and it had seemed to work perfectly. However at the time it wasn’t cheap and there was no generic brand to help with the cost. When I quit my job at the prison, I lost my insurance, and so I no longer had a means of paying for the drug. So I had to quit cold turkey, which made the anxiety come back in force.

The doctor prescribed me amitriptyline, which he said was exactly like Zoloft. Not only that but because I was on a high dosage of zoloft he started me out on the high dosage of the new drug. I would learn later that this was a big mistake.  The drug worked really well, if by really well I meant it made me sleep nearly 20 hours per day. I would take a pill, fall asleep shortly after, wake up, eat something, take another pill, and be out again. This cycle went on for about a week before I had to stop taking the drug as it would make getting a job, as well as getting out of my grandmother’s house, impossible.

So I stopped taking the drug. The effect was almost instantaneous as the anxiety returned and I fell into a deep depression, one that would take years to pull myself out of. I did get a job and we found a small apartment to live in, but my work ethic was awful and so I bounced from job to job over the next several months. The anxiety and depression continued to build during this time.

If there is something that I regret more than anything else in my life is that I didn’t share with my wife how I was doing. instead I became distant and would escape from the anxiety in video games for more hours per day than i would like to admit. This led to my wife feeling as if I didn’t want or need her around, while at the same time her mother was telling her that I would never change and that I was never going to be the kind of man who her daughter deserved.

See, in reality, her mother had always hated me. She would refer to me as that dumb corn-fed Iowa boy, or more sweetly as Gomer Pyle. She saw me as the exact opposite of what a man should be, and this led to much strife between the two of us while Jennifer and I had lived in Texas. Outside of Texas she continued her campaign to rid me from her daughter’s life, through long telephone calls.  Now, after many years, I can somewhat see that she was right in some ways, but at the same time she never gave me enough of a chance to prove myself either.

It was much the same with my own mother and Jennifer. Things were more cordial but my mother was very clear that she didn’t believe we were right for each other. No one could be good enough for my mother and add to this the fact that Jennifer was a practicing pagan at the time and fireworks occurred several times during this period of our lives together. Jennifer was a take no shit type person, and my mother would take the passive-aggressive route. I on the other hand tried to stay out of the whole situation which led to my wife’s feelings being hurt, knowing I wouldn’t stick up for her.

Anyway, after several months of living in the apartment, with a husband who was more interested in his video games than her, my wife decided that she had been through enough.  Add to this, the promise of signing up for college classes had been broken because at the time I was so insecure that I believed if she did go to school, she would find someone smarter and better than me, whom she would leave me for.  The fact that I couldn’t seem to keep a job didn’t help matters either.

Shortly before this, I had begun working for a construction company that built prefab homes throughout the Midwest. If there was any job that I hated more than working at the prison it was construction. For one, I was absolutely awful at it, and two, I couldn’t stand any of the neanderthals that I was forced to work with. These men were disgusting, sleeping with anything that could move and pretending to be good family men with a wife and kids at home. It wasn’t long before word got back to my wife that I was soon to be unemployed again. She was done.

I came home from work one week and found my wife waiting for me. She took me out to a little gazebo outside of the apartment and let me know that she was leaving me.  I begged her to reconsider, bawled my eyes out and assured her that I would change, but she had made up her mind. Our marriage was over. I have never felt pain to that degree before, it was as if my heart was trying to force itself out of my body and leave me for the empty shell that I was.  I don’t think I have ever cried so hard or shook with grief.

A few days later, my wife was on her way back to Texas on the bus. A family member had purchased her a ticket and taken her to the bus stop.  I was called and told that she was on her way. I jumped into my car and drove as fast as I could in an effort to catch the bus. Nearly 50 miles later I realized that my effort was a futile one, I pulled over and bawled my eyes out. Then something clicked in my mind and when I say click I mean in an instant my mind went from complete grief to rage.

I drove home cussing everything that I could think of. I screamed at the top of my lungs and tore at my clothes all while driving much faster than the speed limit, it is a wonder I didn’t get pulled over. Upon reaching my house, I tore the place to pieces. Breaking anything and everything that I could get my hands on.  I decided I was glad my wife was gone, I hated my wife, I couldn’t stand the thought of her. I went out of my way to promote the idea that I was happy that she was gone and over time I even convinced myself. This anger would stay with me for much of the next decade.

For part 9 click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 7

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 6 click here.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24

Meeting Jennifer absolutely turned my life upside down. I had never talked to a more interesting and profound person in all of my life. She lived in Texas, which was obviously a bit of a problem but through the internet and telephone conversations we were able to become very good friends fairly quickly.  However, I wanted more and so one night I asked her if she might be interested in a long-distance relationship. The plan was that eventually I could travel to Texas and see her or she could travel to Iowa to see me and we would see how things went.

At this time in her life, Jennifer ascribed to a pagan/Wiccan style faith which meant to me that she was more or less a devil worshiper but she was really cute and by that point I didn’t really care. We would spend hours on-line talking to each other and always had a great time talking about any number of topics. I got a job in the next town over, mainly so that I could afford phone cards and save up money for my eventual trip to Texas to see her.  I cannot even imagine the hundreds of dollars that I spent on phone cards alone.

As I said, the plan was to take things slow and eventually visit each other a few times to see how things would go. Those plans all changed when one morning I drove to work, a tire and lube shop/gas station, and found all of my co-workers huddled around a small radio in the back of the shop. Several customers were standing there with them and several of the employees were obviously crying. I asked one of my co-workers what had happened and he told me that someone had flown a plane into one of the twin towers and then shortly after that another plane hit the second tower. The news was dire, I listened as the first tower fell and we all stood shocked as the news came of the second tower going down as well.

Such a shocking situation causes you to rethink everything in your life. I was more or less going nowhere in Iowa. I still felt as if I couldn’t truly be myself in the local area and I desperately wanted out. Jennifer on the other hand was distraught and worried that we might never be able to meet if things got too bad. You’ll have to remember that on this day, things went absolutely crazy. As an example, The gas station I worked for changed the price of gas from $1.34 per gallon to well over $7.00 per gallon. Even so there was well over a mile long line of cars waiting to fill up, fearing that our nation was going to face some type of invasion. Traffic was at an absolute standstill, a major feat considering I live in a rural area that you rarely meet more than a handful of vehicles on your daily commute.

After work that night I called Jennifer and we talked for quite some time. We decided that I could move down there and live with her and her mother for a while until I could find a place for us both to stay. I bought a bus ticket the next day and about a month later I was on my way to Texas. When I arrived in Texas I saw her standing there. She was even more beautiful that I could have ever dreamed possible. I’ll always remember that first kiss we shared there at the bus stop. That night sitting on her roof, she sang me a song and I thought that things had never been more perfect. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this woman from that very moment.

Being so far away from home was hard but i enjoyed the freedom that it afforded me. Absolutely no one in Texas knew a thing about me. I was no longer that strange Pentecostal kid that everyone knew. I was a nobody and I completely loved that aspect of living so far away from home. We didn’t attend church and religion rarely was ever a topic in our house. Being with Jennifer was an absolute joy and that was the most important part of it all. We enjoyed each others company so much that we were married 7 months later.

Texas, on the other hand, was an excruciating experience for me. The heat was oppressive, I never knew it could be that hot and we didn’t have AC. On top of that the job market at the time wasn’t the best in the area we lived, especially for a kid right out of school. I did find work as a bagger at a Brookshire Brothers store in town but the pay was awful and the hours were minimal. It wasn’t long before I had to look for a better job, which I found, with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

I still have nightmares from my time as a Prison guard. Every single day that I would go to work, I knew, was going to be the day I died. The job was horrifying, I still find the clank of bars to send shivers down my spine. Obviously I didn’t die but that experience will never quite leave the back of my mind. During one night I was knocked down some stairs and stupidly, at the time, I hoped back up and turned down any medical assistance. I believe this has led to the severe back pain that I now experience almost constantly in my mid-30’s.

The other thing that my experience at the prison did was it changed my mind completely on the criminal justice system. I understand that criminals need some form of punishment but to be placed in a prison in Texas, with no AC, in the middle of Summer is cruel and unusual punishment. Not only that but it is absolutely dangerous, with the outside temps hot, the inner temperatures of the offenders could be even hotter and this leads to fighting and injuries. Even without the fights it is a dangerous environment, having seen several guards collapse from the heat and nearly go into shock. Lastly, Texas is fairly notorious for running their prisons with too few guards. I don’t think people realize just how easily a prison could be taken with the handful of guards that were on duty, at least this was the case during my time there.

I worked at the prison for over a year and was at my breaking point. I asked Jennifer, who had recently enrolled in college courses, if she would consider moving to Iowa. I promised her that when we got to Iowa she could soon sign up for classes at the local college there and that things would be much better for the both of us. In Texas we had almost no support system whatsoever, in Iowa my entire family would be their to help us out if a need ever arose. It took some pleading but eventually Jennifer agreed to move to Iowa with me.  One of my happiest memories in life was being able to tell my commanding officer at work that I was quitting.

As the we put the miles behind us and drew closer and closer to Iowa, I felt as if all of my problems were fading away. Being far away from the prison, I thought, would rid me of the nightmares and the constant anxiety that I had felt for so many months. Boy was I wrong and in the end, my anxiety and nightmares would be the least of my worries.

For part 8 click here.

Satanic Sundays

Satanic Sunday #1: The Legend of Zelda

As another weekly entry to the blog I thought I would discuss something that was considered evil and satanic by all or some of the people that we attended church with over the years. For my first entry I will discuss something that affected me greatly, at the time. In fact I’m still a bit upset about this.

Being a child of the 1980’s, nothing was better than the new video games that were coming out. The Nintendo Entertainment System was a beast for its time. Sporting amazing 8 bit graphics and a huge library of games, the NES was the key status symbol of children in that time. Today the graphics seem awful but some of the games are still playable and fun even today.

One of the best games on the console was “The Legend of Zelda.” Playing the heroic link, fighting hordes of enemies on your epic journey to defeat the evil Ganon and save the princess Zelda.  Fighting dragons, skeletons, piggish guards, the ability to save your game, and the non-linear gameplay made the game something special and very different for that time.

I begged my parents to get me the game but having been told that the game contained magic, my mother was completely against the title.  Any form of magic was considered witchcraft in the pentecostal world and any amount of witchcraft, for the young mind, would lead the child to satanic worship and hellfire. There was very little chance that I would ever get my hands on this game.

Luckily though, I had an older cousin who owned the game and for some reason he had grown bored with video games. One day at his house he asked me if I wanted his NES collection and I nearly passed out from the feeling of delight. Within his collection sat the holy grail of video game titles. The golden cartridge edition of “The Legend of Zelda,” mint and still including its box and instruction manual. I think I nearly cried holding that title in my hands.

Knowing that the title was forbidden in my home, I would wait until I knew everyone was asleep or out of the house to play the title. My brother was in on the plot and would take turns with me playing the title. The game was just as good as I had always hoped it would be and I was completely enthralled with the experience of roaming the land of Hyrule on my quest to save the princess Zelda. The experience was short-lived…

Coming home from school one day, my brother and I ran up the stairs to our room to find that my mother had cleaned our rooms that day. Panic struck and I searched through my game titles. It was gone, along with every other title that might contain even the slightest bit of magic. With a broken heart, I begged my mother to return the games only to find that while we had been at school, she had found the titles, broken them and then burned them in the backyard. I was then told that I would thank her one day for saving me from the evils of witchcraft…I still haven’t done so.

My video game collection today includes a gold copy of “The Legend of Zelda.” It’s one of my most prized possessions. Strangely enough though, I have no compulsion to worship Satan or practice witchcraft. It is simply a fun game, with an easy to follow story, that was one of the best parts of the 1980’s for a child my age. An experience robbed from me, due to fundamentalist faith and fear.



My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 6

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 5 of my journey click here.

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” – Exodus 20:12

The rest of my family’s time in Branson was fairly awful and routine. We only lived there a few short years but it seemed like we went up and down, from just about making ends meet to near financial collapse. It was a deeply troubling time for my childhood. My parents had never argued much growing up but these two short years it seemed like arguments were an almost daily struggle. It was obvious to me that moving to Branson had never been gods plan in the first place.

My mother found work at a small shop on the strip that sold decorative angel figurines. My father bounced from one job to another. When it was apparent that the boys ranch vision was little more than an elaborate con, my father and his former boss started a security business in old town Branson. Jobs were few and money was short. To make ends meet my father attempted phone sales and soon found it was not for him. He was hired to work at a small kiosk, outside the IMAX theatre, that sold decorative glass figurines, (A humorous endeavor since the kiosk was tiny and my father is a tall and large framed man. He probably broke more figurines than he ever sold.) Finally, his break arrived when one of the larger hotels hired his company to provide security. Things seemed to get better for a short period of time when the hotel chain abruptly ended their contract, later we learned that the hotel was in severe financial problems and would close not long after.

After losing the security contract, Dad had reached his final straw. Reluctantly, he went back to Iowa, staying with his parents for a few weeks, while he found a job and a place for us to live. I was overjoyed. Not only were we moving back home but I would get to be with my friends again and we could put the Branson nightmare behind us. I would however miss the church and the friends that I had made there, but as I said in my last post, I thought the majority of them were foolish anyway.

Being back in familiar surroundings was wonderful, the thought of returning to the dull and droll sermons, in the church that hated children, however, was not so wonderful.  We attended the church that had been our home a few years earlier just a few short weeks before my parents decided it was not the environment we could endure. The minister had begun to have some mental issues, whether it was dementia or Alzheimer’s we may never know but his moods were anything but predictable. He could go from happily praising God to screaming at a member of the congregation for not being devout enough in second. We left that church and never returned.

The next church we attended would be my family’s home church for close to the next decade. The minister there was a kindly older man who I still think of fondly. He had actually been the minister at the Assembly of God church that my family attended during the 1980’s and so there was a connection there He also happened to be the minister that had dedicated me to the lord as an infant. (A ceremony in which parents offer their children to god, symbolically in the same manner that Abraham offered his son Isaac) So the family felt comfortable at his church and though the services weren’t as lively as we had been used to, there was at least no screaming at congregants. More to my liking, the services were incredibly short by the standards I had become used to, generally an hour or two instead of the 4 or 5 hour services we had attended in the past.

By this time I was nearing the age of 16 and the only things on my mind were girls and getting a car. I was working at a factory at night, getting rides from a friend, in hopes that I might save up to purchase my own vehicle soon. On my 16th birthday, just after getting my driver’s license, my parents surprised me with an old beat up vehicle that they weren’t too worried about and let me go. I had never experienced this amount of freedom before.

I would drive around constantly, listening to the radio and having to constantly switch the station due to the poor reception I received in the vehicle. I believe this might be where I earned my eclectic taste in music that almost no one but me can stand. The Punk rock genre became my passion though and I lived the life as well as one can in rustic southern Iowa. The Clash, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Dead Kennedys, The Dead Milkmen, and Greenday were personal favorites. There music spoke to me in a way that nothing outside of religious euphoria had ever come close to.  I began collecting albums almost immediately much to the chagrin of my parents, who found the lyrics to be satanic and the beat far too quick to enjoy.

I began staying out late and sleeping very little, I started drinking and experimenting with pills and drugs, you could say that I had fallen into the wrong crowd. I, however, found the experience to be absolutely marvelous. I still believed in god but over time I had begun to tire of the dogmatic approach to the gospels. I was bored with all of the rules and tired of having to worry every single day about some sin I might have committed without ever knowing it. I quite praying and by the time I was 17 I quit going to church. Understand that during this time, I was still a fundamentalist at heart but a fundamentalist who knew and didn’t care that he was going to hell.

Around this time I got into a serious relationship with a girl from another town. This relationship would last nearly a year and would end up being one of the most abusive experiences of my life. If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship then it is hard to grasp how easy the abuser can make the victim feel as if it is their fault they are being abused. At this same time I began to question why god would allow me to be treated so poorly? Was it because I was so sinful? Was it because I had quit on god and not became a minister? Was it because god really didn’t exist? I decided I would go with option 3, really knowing nothing about atheism and yet still calling myself an atheist. It was more of a rebellion from my parents since I still thought that in reality a god had to exist.

Thankfully, that relationship didn’t last too long and I was able to break it off without getting myself killed. Although she did try to run me over with her car the day I broke up with her, after I had stopped to get back some of my things.  I was happy to be away from that situation and in all honesty I had better things to do with my time. I had met an absolutely gorgeous girl on-line and while we were fairly good friends at the time I was hoping that maybe I could make it something more.  She was fun to talk to and knew all sorts of things about topics that I had no understanding. She introduced me to music I had never heard before and ideas that I had never thought before. In my mind I said to myself, I’m going to marry this woman some day, and you know what, I was right…even if things didn’t go exactly as I had planned…

For part 7 click here.

Something Different Saturdays

Something Different Saturday #1: Separation of Church and State

So to take a small break from my journey, I’ve decided that on Saturdays I will write a blog about something that has been prevalent on my mind for the prior week.  In this weeks article I would like to talk about my own opinions on the Separation of church and state, both from my former theist beliefs and from my current atheist stance. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Matt the Theist:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” – “Thomas Jefferson “The Declaration of Independence”

As a Christian, this line from the, “Declaration of Independence,” is first and foremost in my mind. How can you deny that our founders based the US on Christian theology? It’s written right there when they mention the creator. Not only that but without the creator we wouldn’t have any rights to defend. It seemed fairly clear to me that when the founders created this nation of ours, they wanted a place to be free from government instituted faith and be free to worship God in the way the Bible intended.

The Separation of church and state doesn’t even exist since it wasn’t explicitly written into the constitution and the only thing we must guard against is the government taking over religion. On the other hand, religion taking over the government, if it is the will of the people, is not only fine but would lead us to a much more godly and good society.  The government without god infused into it, is a system that is doomed to fail. We cannot expect to receive God’s blessing if we don’t fully submit to him and create the type of government that he would accept.

According to the Bible, the government, or those in authority, play a key role in the faith. Romans 13:4 states…

                 “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

So from that scripture we can see that God expects the government to dole out his justice, in punishing the evil doer and rewarding the good.  Outside of this the government should have no role in dictating how I choose to worship outside of providing a safe environment to worship. If we get Christian leaders into government positions, those who really love God, we will see the blessings of God in our economy, our families, and our foreign  policies.

How can we expect a secular government to lead us in a way that will be pleasing to God? Look at this sinful world, and all the evil that runs rampant. Women are killing their children, men and women are marrying members of the same-sex, and some states have made the right to commit suicide available to their citizens.  The fool has said in his heart that there is no god and we are a country that is obviously run by fools.

Matt the Atheist:

“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.” – Thomas Jefferson “Notes on the State of Virginia”

I’m sorry but the separation of church and state is clearly implied by our constitution and the various writings by our founders. They did not set out to create a nation that was pleasing to god, but a nation that was pleasing to the many. The very fact that a good majority of our founders, Jefferson included, were deists, points to the secular roots that they were attempting to add to our constitution.

As the declaration mentions a creator, it is the creator of deism, a god that creates and then goes away, that granted us our rights. Even the word granted is a bit of a misnomer because without the rights to do as we please, the inhabitants in a deist universe would have no capability of living a fruitful life. The founders were not pointing to the goodness and greatness of an all-powerful god, but to the fact that we have the ability to do as we please here on Earth, so we might as well do something good.

The separation of church and state is crucial to preventing our country from becoming a christian version of a sharia controlled nation. If you want to see apostates hanging in the streets, women stoned in front of their families, and anyone who follows a non-christian faith burnt at the stake, let the separation be torn down. In this country we enjoy the freedom to pursue as well as the freedom to abstain from religion. This would not be a possibility in a nation that lacks this separation.

If we were to say that this separation does not exist, the next question would be, Which denomination gets to decide how we are to rule? If democracy is the key then I would have to assume that our nation would be run by fundamentalist evangelicals seeking to create god’s kingdom on earth. If not democracy than would it simply be whichever denomination is able to take power at any given moment. This week we are run by Catholics and so we must observe the sacraments, next week the Pentecostals take over and so each night is ended with speaking in tongues and the laying on of hands?

Lastly, not a single advance in human history has come from those who conservatively follow their faith. The freeing of slaves, women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights were all brought about by people who bucked the system and said, “What we have believed up to this point has been wrong and we should change things up!” This type of change would not be possible in a world ran by the devoutly religious, as god’s law would be final.

We have come so far in the last few decades that to turn back now would be devastating. Which rights are you willing to give up in order to please a particular version of god? Does the woman’s right to choose go out the window? Do we strip homosexual men and women of their marriage certificates? Do we strip the rights of African-Americans and return them to the supposed “curse of ham?”

If there is anything that is sacred, or at least comes close to sacred in a secular society, the separation of church and state has to be it. As Christopher Hitchens said often, “Mr. Jefferson, build up that wall!”

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 5

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 4 click here.

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

Though in my mind, the relationship between god and I was strained, I was still very much a believer well into my teens. All that my preaching experience had done was sully my vision of becoming a minister. After a few days I prayed and asked god if the whole thing had just been a test and sensed that the answer was yes. So I was off the hook when it came to the ministry and for the next several years the thought rarely entered my mind.

I was now finally a teenager and things were beginning to look up for me. I had made some friends at school and was starting to enjoy my life. This was mostly due to the fact that i found the best way to deal with the bullying, that I had received for so many years, was to react with attitude. During this time of my life my sense of humor developed and is still something that I hold dear. Unfortunately my life was getting ready to take another turn, one that I never expected.

Just before Halloween my parents sat my brother and I down and told us that we would be moving to Branson, Missouri. I loved our house and I can still walk through it within my mind remembering every single inch of the home exactly as it was. Moving was out of the question, I finally had friends, I was getting good grades, and everything had been going so well. It was then that my father said that god was telling him to move us to Branson and when god speaks you don’t question it. I seriously wish he would have questioned it at least slightly after how it all turned out.

See, the local Sheriff, my fathers boss, had recently met a man who told him that god had sent him a vision. In the vision the man was to build a boys ranch, near Branson, that would lead many young souls to the lord. The man then told the sheriff that he could help in the venture and that anyone else who the sheriff thought might be interested could help out as well.  My father was promised a large house on the land purchased for the boys ranch, a huge salary, and great benefits. If it sounds too good to be true, believe me, it was.

A couple of months later we moved to Branson. When we arrived on the property we found that there was no power and we had no idea where the fuse box was. It was close to midnight and exhaustion was the main thing on all of our minds. It took about an hour for my father to find the fuse box and get the lights on, once he did the reality of the situation sunk in.

The huge house that we were promised, hadn’t even been built yet. We were relegated to two small unconnected rooms in what had once been a summer camp. A third unconnected room contained the kitchen, in which a dirty clogged up sink with water that had sat for who knows how long, and a stove that had a single burner that worked. My father reassured us that everything would be worked out the next day and we should just get some sleep and worry about it in the morning.

The next morning, the man who had made all the promises showed up. He was the epitome of a con man. Slicked back silver hair, an immaculate suit, false teeth that were far too big for his mouth, and a woman hanging off his arm that might have been, though I have no way of confirming it, a prostitute. This was not the godly man that we had all been told so much about.

My father asked him what the situation was and was told that the construction team that would build our house had been delayed and we would need to find a place to live for a short period of time until it was ready. We were also told that we couldn’t stay in the cabins any more than a couple of days because it had recently been condemned. We were more or less homeless having sold our former home shortly before moving to Branson. I was at a complete loss for words, my entire world had been destroyed overnight and I didn’t see any hope in the near future.

Dad has always been resourceful and he was able to find us a place quickly. After telling the landlord our situation we were allowed to immediately move into a small upstairs apartment in the nearby town of Forsyth. It was small but it was better than the unconnected rooms we had spent the last few days in and unpacking allowed our minds to be off the bad situation for a while. That is until we met the downstairs neighbor.

The neighbor I speak of was an old man who was angry about everything. What was worse that if he heard even the slightest sound from our apartment he would beat on the ceiling for sometimes 15 minutes at a time. A memorable night occurred when we flushed our toilet, he started banging and shortly after an ambulance arrived. My father asked what had happened and the EMT said that a large piece of drywall had fallen onto the mans head. I still laugh when I think of how that must have looked. The EMT also asked how we could stand living above the man when he noted that the ceiling looked like a piece of Swiss cheese. The old man was fine and was still there when we moved out later.

Mom and dad enrolled us into school the day after we moved. I hated the new school basically for no more reason than to hate it. The kids were weird, the games they played at gym were weird, the layout of the school was weird. Everything about the place drove me nuts. Even the bullies there had a slight charm to them which made their bullying incredibly humorous for me.

There was one bright spot after the move and that was our search for a new church. We attended a bunch of churches in the area and it gave me the opportunity to notice just how different Christians from different denominations could be.  We visited several non-denominational churches that were not “spirit-filled” enough for our liking, we visited a charismatic church out in the country that was way too “spirit-filled” with kids running up and down the tops of the pews, and people shrieking and dancing during the middle of the sermon. Finally we found an Assembly church in the area and stuck with it throughout our time there. Coincidentally, the minister of the church had been trained by my Grandmother’s brother, before getting his own church.

The new church was lively and had an enormous youth group. All of the kids were friendly and I really enjoyed myself there. The teen class talked about taboo subjects like sex, homosexuality, and doubt without the apprehension that most churches in the denomination would have. It was really a great experience for me at the time and I made some good friends. The youth group was a bit different from other churches I had been to. Outside of Sunday morning, the youth held services separate from the adult congregation. This allowed us a freedom to express ourselves that you wouldn’t find in much churches.

I distinctly remember one night that at the time shook me to the core. During the prayer service a friend of mine asked for prayer and when asked what his need was he said.

 “I have been having terrible doubts, I don’t think I believe in god anymore”

I was completely confused. How could he not believe in god? God existed, it’s obvious, how can anyone say that they don’t think god exists? My mind was swirling with this new notion that someone could stop believing in god, when another shocking thing happened. One by one many people in the room started to share that they too had numerous doubts and at times it was hard for them to believe that god existed. My shock turned to anger. Was this a church or a house of satan? Who gave these people the right to outright question god in his house? I went home that night and searched my bible for wisdom. I came across the scripture that is at the beginning of this blog. It was obvious, these kids weren’t sinful, they were just a bunch of fools and didn’t know right from wrong.  I felt better knowing that I hadn’t ever been that foolish and shortly after fell asleep.


For part 6 click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 4

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part three click here.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15

Finding out that I was going to preach just a short time in the future sent me into a panic. I had never prepared a sermon before and heck at that point I had never even prepared a speech in school before. The closest experience that I had in this area would have been the book reports we were forced to give in front of the class and even with those I had performed awfully. I’ve always been a very nervous person when it comes to speaking in front of a group and this was going to involve topics that I believed others in the church would know much more about. I was terrified.

Since the church we attended had so little to do for the children, my mother had started a youth group, every other Saturday, from 1 to 2pm. I mention the time because that was all we were allotted, one hour every two weeks. We were also told explicitly that we were not allowed to turn on the heat or the AC and even though Iowa isn’t the warmest of places, mid-May can be fairly hot at times. None of this mattered though because it gave me an opportunity to practice in front of a group prior to my actual preaching experience.

I asked my mother if it would be alright to prepare a sermonette(A short sermon) for the youth group and she said I could. So now I had a group and I had a time to practice but what would I speak on? My mind was a complete cloud and so my mother suggested that I give a sermon on the love of god. I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the topic, wanting much more to preach a fire and brimstone style sermon but without any idea of how to come up with a sermon like that on my own, I agreed to preach on god’s love.

I scoured the Bible, picked out a bunch of scriptures that dealt with god’s love and built a small sermon around it. All I can remember from the sermon now is that John 3:16 was the central verse and I talked about how god’s love is even better than a parents love because god will love you forever whereas parents can only love you while they are alive. Looking back at it, it’s pretty grim stuff and not something that I am particularly proud of but hey, it was my first sermon.

The next week at youth group, the sermonette went off without a hitch. At the end of the sermon I asked if anyone wanted to be saved and my best friend raised his hand. I still have no idea whether he did so since we were friends or if he actually felt the need to get saved but at the time the feeling was intense. I hadn’t expected it and I think I probably led him in the worst “sinner’s prayer” that has ever been uttered. (Remember we were back at an Assemblies church at this point and they believe salvation comes through faith not the speaking of tongues)  I might feel awful about this if not for the fact that I know my friend grew up to be an atheist tattoo artist who does fairly well for himself. My indoctrination didn’t stick with him at least.

So getting my first sermon out-of-the-way, in front of the youth, was encouraging. It went so well that I got a bit overconfident and imagined the hundreds that might come forward at my grandfather’s church to get saved.  My grandfather preached at a run down church in Missouri, with an average attendance of 20, so my imagination was far greater than any actual experience that would ever occur.  Even so, I was pumped and ready to get my opportunity to preach.

The days seemed to go by so slowly from that point on. What had seemed to be such a short period of time before giving my sermonette, now seemed like it would never occur. I passed the time by reading my bible, studying the scriptures that I was preaching on, and probably a good amount of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 on the NES. If there was one thing that I enjoyed more than church at the time, it was video games, and that one in particular was amazing…..but I digress….

My Grandfather’s church was small and had a small but dedicated group of ultra-conservative, ultra-pentecostal, and mostly ultra-old members as a congregation.  These were the type of Pentecostals that didn’t believe in TV, home-schooled all of their kids in christian theology, and saw everything that might be considered as even the smallest amount of fun as evil. I found out after my sermon that none of them were thrilled with the idea of a child preaching to them.

The Sunday finally came and the service went by as usual, then the time of the sermon came and my grandfather called me up to the stage. I could barely see over the pulpit and as I went to put my bible onto it, I dropped it. All of my neatly placed bookmarks fell out as well.  I picked my bible up and tried to remember any of the scriptures that I had planned. They were gone, my mind was blank. I could hear the sounds of the congregants beginning to get annoyed and so I decided to give the same sermonette that I had given the youth group weeks earlier.

Only one problem, after I read John 3:16 I looked out at the congregation and saw nothing but angry faces. I tried to speak and nothing came out. I stood there paralyzed for about 5 minutes before my grandfather stood up, walked over to me and told me to go sit down behind him. I sat there on the pew behind my grandfather and bawled. He gave a quick sermon and let everyone go as quickly as possible. After the service he tried to give me some words of encouragement, tried to tell me that every minister has a bad sermon their first time and that since I got it out-of-the-way so young, I would have no problem as I grew older and stronger in my faith.

I heard my grandfathers words and they did make me feel slightly better. In my mind though I had only one thought. A thought that would haunt me years later and would bring me back into the ministry, eventually, years later. The thought was this…

“Well god, I did what you wanted and you failed me. I’ll never preach again and it’s all your fault. I hate preaching and I think I might hate you.”

For part 5 click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 3

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 2 click here.

“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” -Matthew 5:28

Receiving the baptism of the holy spirit, in the Full Gospel church, was, in a way, to become an adult member of the church. At only ten years old I was allowed to speak in front of the church, share testimonies, and take part in the laying on of hands when the prayer service began. Some in the Pentecostal faith believe that children have a purer, less tainted by the world, form of faith and so it wasn’t all that uncommon for a member of the church to specifically ask for the children who had received the baptism to come forward and pray for them.  It was exhilarating to be respected in the way that I was by both the adults and those my age who had not received the baptism yet.

We spent the next couple of years in attendance at this church. I loved the fast pace of the services, the music was like a rock concert, there was a bassist, a guitar player, and a drummer who could really get the place booming. The preaching was incredibly fire and brimstone, everyone outside the church was evil and decrepit, everyone inside the church who hadn’t yet been baptized were usurpers of the spirit though not nearly as looked down upon as those outside the church. The saints in attendance, who were spirit filled, we likened to the apostles themselves. Everyone in the church had a ministry and each person could speak and be heard as the “spirit” led them. It was an absolutely thrilling experience for a child my age, that is until one day we stopped attending.

For no apparent reason we simply stopped going to the Full Gospel church and started attending an Assembly of God church in the same town. I would ask why we started going to “the boring church” as I called it, but would be told to hush and when i needed to know why I would be told. Little did I know the massive scandal that had caused us to leave our former home church.

I remember, sitting at my grandparents house during thanksgiving and my grandfather made a joking remark about my aunt being pregnant by immaculate conception. Everyone looked very upset, and my aunt started to cry. I wanted to know what the big issue was and it was then that my father took me aside and told me. Our former minister, had an affair with my aunt and she was pregnant. I then learned that the former minister had been arrested for doing therapy sessions in which he would initiate sex as a form of penitence for sinful women in the church.  I was completely shocked. Not only was our former minister a man of god who had been married for over thirty years, but one of the topics he talked about the most was lust and how god removed lust from the hearts of believers. It was the first time in my life that I realized a minister could be just as evil and wrong as any other human being.

As I said before, I found our new church to be an awful experience. The minister was stiff-necked, dogmatic and angry about just about everything. There was no laughing in his services and the movement of the spirit was relegated to certain times during the service or special revival services. He also did not like children much, and while I had been seen as basically an adult in my former church, I was nothing more than an annoying child in the new place of worship. Worse yet, even though I was younger, I had been attending teen youth events and Sunday school classes at the old church, but here in our new surroundings I was stuck in a little kids Sunday school class. It was at this point that my skepticism really kicked into swing, even if it only lasted a brief period of time.

I became an absolute pain in the ass, I would spend my time during Sunday school asking the questions that no Sunday school teacher wants to answer. Questions like: If god created everything, who created god? If god is eternal, then what did he do for all the years before he created the earth? Explain the trinity to me? If god created the devil, and the devil is where evil came from, then god created evil, and so….is god evil?

Generally when this happened I would be taken to the sanctuary, sat in the front row, and told to keep quiet until the end of services. I knew that this would result in a spanking once I got home, but the adult classes were more interesting and by that point the spankings I did get weren’t hurting all that bad anymore. So I’d sit and listen to the adult class, enjoy the song service, and then listen to a long and boring service by a pastor who would, more times than not, point out that rebellious youth who didn’t do what they were told used to be stoned in the old testament times.

Though I questioned my teachers I still at this point never questioned God. I would pray and speak in tongues during my nightly prayers and would read the bible diligently attempting to memorize as much scripture as possible. I thought if I got close enough to god I would recognize the call that my grandfather had prophesied years earlier. Over time though, when I hadn’t felt the call, I began to be convinced that maybe my grandfather had been wrong.  I questioned the prophecy, something that isn’t explicitly called a sin but is treated as such in the church. I wasn’t really worried about it but I did wonder if my doubts were what was preventing me from hearing the call of god.

As with most young boys of twelve, my voice was starting to deepen, I was noticing hair where there had been no hair before, and my bones ached from the growth spurts I was experiencing.  I started to notice that girls weren’t icky anymore and I thought several of them were fairly pretty. Puberty was hitting and I was headed for a traumatizing experience that still gives me chills thinking about it.

One night, I awoke after a lustful dream, probably the first one I had ever experienced.  I had experienced a wet dream, a perfectly normal experience that almost all people have from time to time, especially during puberty. However, to me, I had committed a horrible sin. Not only had my mind conceived lustful thought but I had committed a sexual act within my mind and so I was no longer saved. I remember crying for what seemed like hours and begging god to forgive me, but no answer came. I sought out every sin that I could remember committing and confessed it all to god, still no answer came.

Finally, in near exhaustion, I said, will you forgive me if I agree to preach? Something clicked, I felt something turn within my mind and thought I heard someone say yes. I asked again.(This would become my standard procedure in the future to see if god really wanted me to do something. It seems silly not but at the time I believed that maybe I could trick myself once but only god would speak directly to me twice.) This time I clearly heard an audible, “YES!” I got out of bed, knelt down and prayed.

“God if you will forgive me for the sin I have committed tonight, I will become a preacher as soon as possible.”

I felt a calming sensation and I knew that I had been forgiven. I changed my clothes, laid back down and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. The next morning I awoke and ran downstairs. I found my mother and I told her that god had told me to preach, leaving out the rest of the story as I think any young boy would. She praised god with me and we prayed together. She then had me call my grandfather and tell him the news. He congratulated me and then told me that he wanted me to give a sermon to his church when we visited next.

I don’t think any sentence has ever filled me with complete and total horror as that sentence coming from my grandfather. I had told god that I would preach as soon as possible but I didn’t realize how soon that would be. My brother and I would spend two weeks in June with my grandparents, and it was nearly May.  Just a month and some change later I would get my first taste of real preaching and I wasn’t ready. I was horrified!

For Part 4 click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 2

For Part 1 click here

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
                            -Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

I have often been asked throughout my life, especially after leaving the faith if the things I witnessed in church seemed odd or strange at the time. With a few exceptions the answer to that is no. Being raised in the Pentecostal faith, things like speaking in tongues, people getting slain in the spirit, and prophesying were regular occurrences. As a child, you would ask your parents what was happening and they would give you their dogmatic explanation.

Some people still seem to have an issue with this explanation and think that they would still find these things as odd regardless of if they had been born into the faith. To those who say this I ask if as a child they believed in Santa. Think of all the illogical and weird things that you must simply accept as true in order for Santa to exist.

  1. A Man lives on the North Pole
  2. Elves are real
  3. Deer can fly
  4. A diet of milk and cookies can sustain you
  5. Santa is able to break into everyone’s home
  6. He is fully capable of carrying an seemingly infinite number of gifts
  7. He can see you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.
  8. He can reach every home on Earth in a single night

Now why do we as children simply believe this absolutely out of this world story? We believe it because our parents tell us that Santa is real and, in our minds, parents don’t lie. So too is true with anything that I experienced in a Pentecostal church.  Speaking in tongues was god’s angelic language, being slain was God’s power knocking someone over, and prophesying was god speaking through someone a truth that someone else needed to know. Simple as that, I believed it because my parents told me to believe it.

So after the prophecy, that I would be a modern-day Elijah, things basically went back to normal for a while.  I did however get glasses which made my eyesight much better than god seemed to have the capability of doing. Being able to see the world and get around without bumping into things was an amazing experience for my 6-year-old self. Things were going fairly well and then I started school.

Going to school for me was an absolute nightmare. I realized very quickly that I wasn’t the same as everyone else there. I acted differently, I talked differently, and the kids that I saw knew almost nothing about the Bible.  I would talk about a story, such as Noah’s ark, and kids would laugh at how ridiculous it sounded to them. It seemed to me that I must be going to school with a bunch of evil people who hated god and his word. It seems funny to me but I clearly remember thinking to myself, someday they are going to try making me bow to the devil and then they will try killing me because I won’t do it but Jesus will save me.  Needless to say I had a very dark and vivid imagination for a child that young.

One of the reasons that I thought in that way is that I can’t remember a time when  I wasn’t completely aware of my own mortality. As Pentecostals, we believed that Jesus was going to return any day now. The rapture, when Jesus returns and takes the Christians to heaven with him, is talked about in almost every sermon given in a Pentecostal church.  This is taught to children in Sunday school as well. Jesus would return and take us all away and that could happen today.  I knew my life was going to be very short and I absolutely hated that fact.

When I say I hated the rapture, I truly mean that. My parents would plan something fun for a couple of weeks in the future and I would spend hours at night praying that god would hold off the rapture until we got to have our fun day.  I would pray for god to wait until the first day of school if it was summer. I’d pray for god to hold off until after Christmas. Most nights were spent with me praying that god wouldn’t rapture us so that I could continue enjoying my life.

To get back to where I was, school was a nightmare. Not only was I different but I was picked on for being different. My school years were spent in absolute hell during the week and complete solace during the weekend. I loved church, I knew all the stories and by the time I was 8 I could quote scripture better than my Sunday school teachers. I was the kid in Sunday school that the teachers hated because it was around this time that I went through my first rounds of doubt.

If something didn’t make sense to me I was going to question it, and if the teacher didn’t have a good answer, I’d ask the minister in the middle of his sermon. I was an absolute pain in the ass, but it does show me that even then I had the makings of a skeptic that would come in handy much later in life. I didn’t lose my faith at this time, in fact I felt like my faith was getting stronger. Every question I asked and understood pushed me closer to god and closer to being the Christian I wanted to be.

My family had switched churches when I was about 7 years old. The church we had been attending was an Assembly of God church, known to be one of the less strict Pentecostal denominations, and the church we began attending was Full Gospel. The Full Gospel church preached a very hard-line Pentecostalism. The Assemblies teach that you are saved by faith with no other requirement for salvation, the gifts of the spirit are for doing God’s work but must be sought after. The Full Gospel church taught that salvation was only through the baptism of the holy spirit, and only by demonstrating your ability to speak in tongues.  This was fine when I was younger because it hadn’t stuck me yet but by the time I was 10 the realization of what this meant hit me full on.

Both of my parents spoke in tongues and so they were saved, my grandparents all spoke in tongues and so they were saved. I on the other hand had only prayed the sinners prayer and had never spoke in tongues, I was going to hell! I remember being so horrified by the fact that I had been taught wrong in the past, I had been told I was going to heaven but now I knew I was on my way to hell and needed to get the holy spirit quick!

The next Sunday when the minister asked if anyone would like to receive the baptism of the holy ghost, I raised my hand. They led me to the front of the church and had me kneel before the altar. I once again was guided through the sinners prayer and told to remember any sin I might have committed because the holy ghost will not enter an unclean temple. I prayed for a while and the minister asked me if I felt forgiven, I told him I did and so he called the church forward to pray.

Now something that I haven’t told you yet is that I absolutely hate being touched. So the moment that the church started laying their hands on me I felt waves of panic come over me. I wasn’t going to let this stop me though, I needed saved from hell and I wasn’t going to get up until it happened. Receiving the baptism was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life.

Receiving the baptism was basically following whatever directions any member of the church shouted out the loudest. I was told to raise my hands, put my hands down, cry out, remain silent, stand up, kneel down, shout, cry, scream, look up, look down, open your eyes, close your eyes, etc… I was terrified, both because I didn’t think it was going to happen and because I was being screamed at by everyone in the church.

After what seemed like hours, but was in reality only about thirty minutes the minister began to give cues that we were going to give up for the night. I began to cry, I knew I was going to hell, I was going to die unsaved and nothing was going to help me. All of a sudden a syllable came to my lips, I repeated this syllable over and over. The preacher told the congregation to pray harder because it was starting to happen. A few moments later a second syllable and then a third and then a full string of syllables started pouring out of my mouth. I felt an overwhelming joy spread over me and I knew that i had received the baptism of the holy ghost. Not only that but I knew I was saved and I knew that I could put the fear of hell, finally, behind me…..or could I?


For part 3 click here.


My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 1

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:”   —-Joel 2:28


As any former fundamentalist will tell you, there isn’t a time that they can remember not being Christian. Oftentimes your first memories occur in the church or are in some way completely enveloped by the church. My story is no different.

I was born into a low middle class family. My mother was a homemaker and my father was a deputy sheriff for the county we lived in. While I didn’t see much of my dad when I was young, because he worked nights and would oftentimes be asleep while I was awake, what i did see of him was always fun and happy. My mother might be called today a helicopter parent, she was always there, which was fine since I suffered from bad eyesight and occasional convulsions as a child. My parents were both good and loving, I was spanked when I misbehaved but so was everyone else my age at the time so it wasn’t considered abusive by any means. I led a pretty common place life at the time.

One aspect that was different though was that my parents were Pentecostals. The Pentecostal faith had been in our family for at least three generations. My grandfather and Great Grandfather on my mother’s side were both Pentecostal ministers and my parents, along with my aunt, were in a traveling Pentecostal singing group. My birth was especially central to our faith since it actually brought my Grandfather back to the ministry.

At a year and a half, I was rushed to the hospital, after I had gone into convulsions and stopped breathing. My grandfather, who had been backslidden for the decade prior, was said to have gotten down on his knees and prayed to god, promising to return to the ministry if god saved my life. I lived, he re-entered the ministry, and the families faith in Pentecostalism was completely rejuvenated. I was a miracle walking.

So by the time that memories started to develop, we were in church at least three to five times per week. At one point, during the 1980’s, our church held a revival that was set to last a week and ended up going for nearly a month. We were there for every single service and I remember falling asleep underneath a pew almost nightly during this time. Services oftentimes lasted until well after midnight, and even then there was the “afterglow,” a prayer meeting after the service that could by itself last another few hours.

At three years old, I remember my first taste of the ministry. My mother had prepared a simple rhyme for me to say in front of the church. “I’m only half past three, you see, but I love Jesus and he loves me.” Somehow I got it into my mind that this was in the same vein as the pledge of allegiance. So when I spoke, I said “I’m only half past three, you see, but I love Jesus and he loves me, by the United States of American.” The church roared with laughter and applause and I was left with a sense of accomplishment.

Just before the age that I would be starting school, another revival started at my grandfathers church. Though it didn’t last as long, it was marked with an occurrence that would follow me throughout the rest of my life. During the prayer service my mother brought me up to have my grandfather pray for my eyesight. I would soon get glasses and see for the first time how man could succeed in fixing an issue where god had seemingly failed. Anyway, my Grandfather began praying and then he started prophesying, or telling the church a message that God had directly told him to give.

That message was this…

“Matthew is being called to the ministry, he will fulfill the promises of Joel and be a prophet and minister in the same vein as Elijah.”

Those words would follow me throughout my childhood, at times haunt me, sometimes torture me, but they never left me. Even today as I write this I am reminded of the feeling of pride and awe that I felt that night. I honestly had no idea at the time what my grandfather was talking about but I remember clearly the weeping of the people around, the praises, and the respect that the adults in the church showed me that night. It was a feeling that I would search after, many years later, once I had joined the ministry.

This marks the beginning of my jouney. Thank you for reading and I look forward to writing part 2 soon.
An Atheist In Iowa

Continue on to part 2 here.