My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 26

For part 25 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I cannot tell you how hard it was for me to write those first few words to my ex-wife. For nearly a decade, I had told myself time and again how much I hated her, how every thought of her made me angry and sad. Even though all of those feelings had been a sham and a protective covering for the hurt I truly felt, I was sure that she hated me and would never message me back. I spent hours debating whether or not I should even message her, but I did it and immediately felt foolish for the corny way I initiated contact.

She responded, “HEY!”

That went way better than I expected it to go, now was time for me to attempt a conversation with her, but I had absolutely no idea what to say.  I asked her how she was and if she had heard about my second marriage breaking down, surprisingly she had. My ex had contacted her and asked her for help in getting back with me, which is a really weird thing to ask someone. Anyway, we chatted for a bit and then I told her how sorry I was for how distant I had become during our marriage, I accepted my role in our divorce and told her I no longer felt any ill will towards her.

“I accepted my role in our divorce and told her i no longer felt any ill will towards her.”

She was shocked by the apology but acted cordial and let me know that she had forgiven me years before. We were both young and had both made mistakes. She then apologized to me for giving up on our marriage so quickly and for not being as understanding as she felt she should have been. In the end of our first conversation we agreed that we were mature and old enough to be friends.

I went to work after that and my mind kept wandering back to the beautiful redhead that had once sang to me on a rooftop so many years before. Talking to her again online had brought back all of those feelings that had been lost to me for so long. When I got home, I hoped on-line and saw that she too was on-line. We talked for a couple of hours and then she said she had a question for me…

“Do you still have feelings for me?”

My answer was an immediate, “no.” We talked for a few more minutes and were getting ready to end the conversation when my mind burst into action. “I lied,” I said “I have never stopped having feelings for you, losing you was the most painful thing that I have ever gone through but I still love you and always will.” Her response was, “I still have feelings for you too.”

Now this might seem a bit silly, but do you know the scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” where the Grinch hears the Who’s down in Whoville singing and his heart grows three sizes? That’s the absolute best way of describing what seeing her type those words did to me.  I literally jumped in the air and did a little dance in my friends living room. Never once did i think that I might have another shot with the woman of my dreams but this was it.

Thus began another series of late night talks like we had shared almost a decade earlier. Talking to her made me feel like a teenager again and every conversation left me wanting more. For nearly a month we continued these talks and eventually we decided that she should move to Iowa. Only a couple of issues, I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van that I feared wouldn’t make the journey to Texas and back.

“…I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van…”

Her life in Texas was stagnant, her mother had passed away and so she had no real family connections in Texas anymore. She had a daughter who was performing horribly in school due to the large class sizes and lack of one on one attention. She believed that the smaller class sizes would be good for her and so she decided to ask her if she would be interested in the move. One night she told her daughter about me, about Iowa, and about the new school she could attend. She was excited but demanded that she get to talk to me before any decision was made.

Our conversation was the moment my heart grew its fourth size. She had a sweet voice and demeanor, was absolutely in love with the movie Frozen, and insisted that I listen to her sing, “Let It Go.” We chatted for a bit, discussed our mutual love of video games, learned much more than I ever needed to know about “My Little Pony,” and she told me she couldn’t wait to meet me. I hung up the phone happy with how well that conversation had gone.

Almost instantly I found an apartment, I took my van to the shop and had about a grand in repairs done to it. I asked the mechanic if the van would make the trip and his words were, “If it would float, i’d drive it to Hawaii. It’s not going to give you any problems.” Everything was going so well and I thought they would continue to go well…

(Ron Howard Arrested Development Voiceover) “…they did not continue to go well…

It turns out that my wife at the time had hacked my e-mail account. She quickly learned that I planned to make a long trip, knew I had recently moved into an apartment, put two and two together and realized what was going on. She called me fuming. “If you get back with her you will never see the kids again!” I told her that we were separated and that I could do whatever I wanted with my life. She repeated the threat once again and I told her, “Do that and eventually the kids are going to hate you for it. In time they will realize what actually occurred and you will regret it.” She hung up on me.

About 20 minutes later she arrived at my apartment. She pushed her way in and quickly grabbed every picture of the kids that I had in my possession, or so she thought, I had in my binder an envelope filled with pictures that I had grabbed shortly after moving out. She broke several frames and I told her she needed to leave or I was going to call the cops. She left and went straight to the van and began kicking at the tires and beating on the windows. I ran outside and screamed that I had called the cops, I hadn’t, but that they would be there soon so she had better leave. She swung at me with a handful of junk mail, cutting my nose with one of the edges. I told her to leave and she finally did.

Later she called me and made the kids get on the phone and tell me how much they hated me. I could hear the pain in their voices as she goaded them to say these mean things. I told them both I loved them dearly and hoped they would understand one day. She then took the phone back and told me that I wasn’t allowed to see the kids again and that if I tried she would get a restraining order against me.  I laughed and said if anyone needs a restraining order, it would be me against her but that the whole idea was preposterous…

A few days later I hit the road and was on my way to Texas. I drove straight through the night, only stopping long enough for gas and to grab a couple of snack foods, nuts and beef sticks.  I reached Dallas by dawn and realized that my trip was nearly over, just three short hours to go. As the miles past, my excitement continued to grow. I pulled in to her driveway at around 11, gave her a quick kiss, loaded the van and we were back on the road before noon.

Only with my luck could we hit a blizzard in the middle of Texas, but that’s exactly what happened. We made it halfway through Oklahoma before we had to stop for the night. We were snowed in for nearly 3 days and what was worse, the nuts and slim jims had not done me any favors. I spent those three days in excruciating stomach cramps and pain, turns out I’m slightly allergic to nuts. Who knew? Nothing says love than being able to sit in a room where feet away the guy you love is shitting his guts out for three days.

When we finally reached Iowa, I thought things were going to calm down for a bit. We spent the next couple of days just enjoying being in each others company. We signed her daughter up for school and spent some quiet time alone. These days passed by so quickly that it was soon time for me to return to work. I hated having to leave her, but money had to be made and so I went back to work expecting a long and boring day.

Long and boring it was not, a couple of hours into my shift a police officer entered the premises. Speaking to the boss he asked if I was working. I stood up and said I was the one he was looking for. He walked across the room, handed me a stack of papers, and said “You’ve been served with a restraining order, you are to not come into contact in any way with your wife or her two kids.”

My brain checked out and I give my boss props for not sending me home. I sat in silence, feeling as if I had lost two of the most important parts of my life forever. Nothing, not even the feelings of losing my faith or my first marriage breaking down, had ever hit me with such deep depression and horror as hearing those words come out of that officers mouth. I was, once again, dead inside.

To continue on to part 27, click here.

 

Freethought Friday

Free-thought Friday #2: I Was Always An Atheist

For last weeks Free-Thought Friday, click here.


Alan Solomon has been a reader of my blog for some time now. He has shared with me his interest in my journey from the perspective of someone who was never a believer. Here is his story and I think you will find it very interesting!


 

First, a definition. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in any god or gods.

So.

I was born an atheist. When you’re a week old, you don’t believe in anything, except milk and poop. Then I was eight days old, my parents decided that I wasn’t quite as perfect as delivered, so they got a mohel to make a small snip. No-one consulted me about this, although if I had been asked, my response would have been either “milk” or “poop”.

0-5
Age 0 to 5 – my interests became more diverse. I had bricks, and stacking cups, and a thing you pushed things into whereat they came out the other end, and books. I’m told that I was starting to read at an age that I frankly don’t believe, mothers always exaggerate. But I do remember my first day at school, I was about 5, and I came home very disappointed. “All they did was play with water”, I said, although actually they were also doing “A is for apple”. Except I was reading books by then, and wasn’t even interested in “Janet and John”.

Age 5 to 10. As I grew up, no-one gave me any good reason to believe in any god. I enjoyed reading a *lot*, the local public library was within walking distance, I persuaded the librarian to let me borrow ten books per week, and I was doing well at school. There was some sort of “assembly” in the morning, and I do remember “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small”, which is a great song, but the next line is “The Lord God made them all”, and I classified that along with Santa Claus, because I already had read about evolution, and that was so obviously the right answer.

ChederAt the age of 9 or 10, I had to go to Cheder. Because my mother told me I had to. At Cheder, I learned two things. A) how to read hebrew, and B) how long I could hold my breath. Hebrew is really difficult – it isn’t just a new language (and I found out later with French,  Latin and Russian that I’m really rubbish at languages) and it isn’t just that the pages are back to front and the writing from right to left. It’s also that the letters aren’t the A-Z that I already knew, and the worst thing is that the vowels are left out and you have to guess what they are from just the consonants. Holding your breath, however, is really easy. The clock in the Cheder had a second-hand, and in order to alleviate the excruciating boredom, I practiced breath-holding.

The purpose of Cheder was to prepare me for my barmitzvah, an ordeal that every jewish boy has to go through as a rite of manhood at the age of 12 or so. It’s a bit like being given a spear and being told to go out and kill a lion, except that you’re given a passage in hebrew, and you have to stand up in front of dozens of relatives and dozens of complete strangers, and not only read it, you have to *sing* it using the prescribed notes, which are, of course, not like the sort of music I was learning when learning piano – oh no, it was little marks amongst the hebrew that told you what pitches and lengths to sing. I would have preferred the spear and the lion. The only good thing about Cheder was that you got unlimited bread and strawberry jam beforehand.

I got through my barmitzvah unscathed. Because I got one-on-one tutelage, and more practice than I’ve ever used for anything else. Not completely unscathed; it was many years before I was willing to stand up in front of an audience and make a fool of myself.

So now I was a mensch. When a minyan was needed (you need ten men for some prayer services) I could be one of them! But even better – I didn’t have to go to Cheder any more, and that was a real benefit; no longer was I in any danger of death by non-breathing. Also, I was in charge of the decision of whether to attend synagogue or not. I chose not.

The school I went to was all boys in gender, mixed in religion. Half jewish, half christian. Because of that, it would have been difficult for them to ram any kind of religion down us, but we still has a daily assembly, and I learned to ask for “forgive us our trespasses” which, at the time, I thought referred to that time in autumn when we would creep onto a field that we weren’t supposed to in search of conkers. No-one explained this stuff to me. The whole of that prayer just sounded like nonsense; even the words I understood were being used in a way that sounded daft. “For thine is the kingdom”? What does that actually mean? It was just words, and meaningless. But we had to mumble them, although no-one explained to me why.

The school I was at was the Grocer’s Company school (which I have to say was the best grammar school in the area, later called the Hackney Downs School, which isn’t nearly as elegant). The motto was “God grant grace” and the school hymn was also  “God grant grace” This was completely wasted on me, because no-one ever explained to me the meaning of “grace” in this context. To me, grace was the opposite of clumsy, and the hymn was all about not tripping over your own feet. And the tune was a dreadful dirge.

It was at this school that I first learned the terms “jew boy” and “yid”, which (judging from the tone of voice they were used) were supposed to be insults. But there were far greater insults, such as “cap crawler” (one who wears his school hat in conformity with the rules) and “swot”. I was, of course, all four. I also learned that although I was wretched at French and pants at Art, I left everyone else behind at maths, which turned out to be useful later.

Grocers was an all-boys school. That didn’t seem to be a drawback until I turned 15 or so, at which point the total absence of half the world’s population became an issue. So I joined Habonim. That’s a jewish youth movement whose objective is to get to to do Aliyah – emigrate to Israel. I had no interest in Aliyah, but a growing interest in that other half. And there they were.

British Bulldog

Religion in Habonim is of very minor importance. Dancing, a lot more so. and mixed games such as British Bulldog, all of which gave boys an opportunity to clutch at girls, and vice versa.  There were also summer camps, also mixed, and winter activities. But included in all this, was a certain amount of what I would call cultural awareness, and it was there that I first found out about the holocaust. No-one had told me about this before, at school we were up to the Tudors and the Stuarts, and the syllabus ending in 1832. It’s impossible for me to describe the impact that this had on me. Thinking about it still makes me cry, and although I’ve read lots of books about the second world war, I try to avoid books about the holocaust. Except “Maus“, which I’d recommend.

Fiddler on the roof.jpg
My grandparents came from Russia at the turn of the century in response to the pogroms there (and no-one had told me about those, either, and “Fiddler on the roof” also makes me cry). They came from the part of Russia that became Poland, and if they hadn’t emigrated, then 40 years later they would have been murdered by the Nazis, along with any children and grandchildren. And, of course, if they’d converted to christianity (which almost certainly they wouldn’t have) that wouldn’t have saved them – the Nazis didn’t care about your religion, only your blood.

So between the ages of 15 and 17, I felt more jewish than I ever had, but not religious. I didn’t go to synagogue (except for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funerals), I didn’t pray, if you’d asked me I’d have said I was agnostic, but that was because I didn’t know the definition of atheist – I was actually an atheist.

If I had believed in god at the age of 15 (which I didn’t), then finding out about the holocaust would certainly have changed that. Some people say that you can’t prove the non-existence of something, but actually you can. If you specify the thing in question (for example, a full-size elephant in my room) then I can prove the non-existence of that (I leave the proof to the reader, it’s pretty simple). And I knew about this sort of proof from maths; you can prove the non-existence of a largest prime number, or that you cannot express the square root of two as a ratio of two numbers. I would very quickly have come to a strong belief in the non-existence of the god of the jews.

So I went up to university at 17 as an atheist to read maths, and soon discovered that I was the Only Jew in the College (if there were others, they were keeping a very low profile). There was Habonim in Cambridge, which was just as well because in student numbers, there were about 20 males for each female. In maths, more like 200. But in Habonim, five girls and two boys, which is small in numbers, but favourable in ratio, especially as there was already one couple paired off. But I’m not going to talk about my early sex life …

As the Only Jew in the College, I found that there were people who thought that I hadn’t heard the Good News, and that if only someone told me, I’d eagerly accept Jesus into my Heart and become one of God’s Army. This is something I hadn’t encountered before, and I was unpracticed at dealing with it. I fear that I was unable to sufficiently conceal my mirth at some of the approaches, which is not as well-mannered as I should have been.

My worst misdemeanor was when a good friend of mine, who went by the handle of Li(3) of 1 (that’s a mathematical joke) persuaded me to go to chapel, on the grounds that I’ve never been, and how do I know I wouldn’t like it if I hadn’t tried it, which is an argument that was also used on my to get me to start smoking (I didn’t) and drinking beer (I did, and still do, occasionally). So I went with him to chapel, and maybe the fact that he called it “chapel” tells you which brand of christianity it was, but I never found out, and we went through a service that was every bit as boring as Cheder, and worse, because there was no clock with a second-hand that I could use to practise holding my breath.holding your breath

I shall pass over the incident when I was asked to eat human flesh and drink human blood and refused on the grounds that cannibalism was against my atheistic principles, even if it’s symbolically, and skip to the part where Li(3) of 1 introduced me to the vicar (or priest, or minister, or whatever he was) with “This is my friend, he’s, he’s, er, er, he’s a, um, he’s of the Hebrew persuasion” at which I said, loudly enough for everyone in the chapel to hear, “No I’m not, I’m a jew”.

I wasn’t invited back.

Elliot 503

I graduated, and there was a ceremony, and people prayed, and since I’d worked hard for that certificate I wasn’t going to make a nuisance about that, and I got a job where they had an Elliott 503 computer, which I fell in love with, and I’ve been messing around with computers or the 50 years thereafter, and it turns out that if you like playing with the best toy ever invented, people chuck money at you, which is nice.

So for 60-odd years, I was an atheist, and thought nothing of it. I mean, it really is nothing, like “not playing football” or “liking brussel sprouts”. I don’t like football, but if someone else want to play, why should I care? And if someone else dislikes brussle sprouts, it’s no skin off my nose. But then I was rummaging around Youtube, looking for yet another production of the Mikado, when I came across Christopher Hitchens, which led to Matt Dillahunty, and I discovered that for some people living in some countries, atheism is indeed a thing. Because in some countries, religion gets rammed down your throat whether you want it or not. Some people don’t accept that other people’s sex lives are none of your business as long as it’s adult consensual.

I still go to synagogue for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funeral, but I’ve found that if I take a book with me and read quietly about such subjects as the “War of the Spanish Succession” while everyone else is either praying or pretending to pray, no-one seems to mind. Just don’t read a book that makes you laugh out loud. At Pesach, I go to the seder at my sister’s house (she does a great pesach meal with chicken soup, chopped liver followed by various Sephardi dishes (we’re Ashkenazi, she married a Sephardi and now mostly cooks in that style) and because there’s two seder nights, the other is at my sister-in-law (more chicken soup, chopped liver and then various Ashkenazi dishes). Because they both know how much I like chicken soup and chopped liver. And at the seder, it’schopped liver.jpg laid down that you should ask questions about the exodus from Egypt, and boy, do I have some good questions each year. So if you want to, you could say that I’m gastronomically Ashkenazi Jewish.

 

 

When my kids were small, we did Santa Claus and the reindeer each year, and I actually do not care that some Christians think that they have a monopoly on Christmas, nor do I care that this maybe comes from a Druid festival or maybe from the Roman Saturnalia. And one of them was the Christmas Elf, who oversees the Distribution of Presents on Christmas Day, although I suspect that we might be the only family that had our own Elf. And I’m still willing to be Santa for grandchildren, because I think it’s important for kids to learn that grown-ups lie about invisible people

Although in restrospect, I realise that religion has affected me, and not just the holocaust – I mean affected me personally. There was a thing in England called the Lord’s Day Observance Society which led to legislation about what I could and could not do on a Sunday. And their idea was that the only thing I should do on Sunday, is going to church, which in my case wasn’t going to happen. These days, the LDOS is pretty much a dead duck, and Sundays are full of activities.

But also the House of Lords (a total unelected anachonism in itself) includes 26 “Lords Spiritual” (bishops), which means that the cold dead hand of religion is infecting my government, although given the almost complete lack of power of the HoL, that isn’t as bad as it might have been and nowhere near as bad as it is in the USA. Oh, and one of the Lords Spritual is a jew. These jews get in everywhere. But no Roman Catholics, because ever since Henry VIII, they’ve been persona non grata in the higher reaches of government.

I read with great dismay, the stories of people (mostly American) who have been inculcated with religion and who have considerable difficulty getting free of it, of the nightmares that some of them still have about an imaginary hell. About how the people they thought loved them, turned out to love their imaginary friend so much more that they’d turn their back on the newly declared atheist. About how people in one of the many religions of peace turned out to be anything but peaceful when push came to shove. About how even though the religion preaches charity, the devotees practise malevolence. About how faith is preached as an ideal instead of as the polite word for gullibility.

And I can only thank god that I am truly blessed because I am, and always was, an atheist.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 25

For part 24 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Even as a kid I got no respect. When my parents got divorced there was a custody fight over me … and no one showed up.” – Rodney Dangerfield

I don’t know what I was expecting when I told her I wanted a divorce but the response was a lackluster “OK.” We sat down and talked things over, deciding that we could do thing amicably and quickly. We even shared a laugh about how awful our whole marriage had been. The era of amiability wouldn’t last very long.

About a week later, I came home to find her crying her eyes out and laying on the floor. The kids weren’t home and so I asked her what was the matter. She informed me that she didn’t want a divorce and was sorry for the hell she had put me through over the years. She asked me if we could give it one more chance, and I informed her that I was done, the time for chances was over and I wanted out. She went on to spend the rest of the night bawling on the floor.

Fighting

Little did I know, but she had earlier encouraged a mutual friend to date me, when the friend said that she would be interested, my ex went ape-shit. So in reality it wasn’t that she had been crying because of wanting to stay together, but she wanted no one else to want me and so her display was an effort to keep me locked away from the rest of the world.  Her dramatics reached a point that I thought she was going to hurt herself or the kids and so I encouraged her to seek medical help. She agreed only if I promised that I would consider giving her another chance. I told her I would think about it but in reality my mind was made up and nothing was going to keep me in this wreck of a marriage.

“She agreed only if I promised that I would consider giving her another chance.”

Prior to going to the doctor to seek medical help she went to the bathroom and shaved herself bald. I tried stopping her but she locked the door and finished the job. We then drove to the hospital in complete silence. Upon reaching the hospital she once again went into theatrics and the doctor called a local psyche ward and encouraged her to stay a few days. Once again she agreed but only if I would promise to think about staying with her. Seeing her driven away, even though she had hurt me greatly over the years, made me feel like a monster. I was absolutely sickened by myself and decided that I would actually think over the matter for the next couple of days.

The one thing that made me question whether or not I should give her another chance were the kids. They were hurt, as children are during a separation, and felt to blame for the way things had happened. I felt awful to see them in so much pain but knew that eventually they would understand whatever decision I ultimately made.  I love those kids with all my heart and they have brought to me, more pride and joy than I ever could have deserved over the years. I still cherish every moment I get to speak with them.

Two days later, the stay had originally been scheduled for a week, she called me on the phone and asked if I could come visit. The facility was nearly 100 miles away and I literally had no gas. I told her there was absolutely no way I could make the trip. She screamed at me over the phone that a real man would get there one way or another, she then hung up the phone. A few minutes later a nurse at the facility called me on the phone and told me that she had checked herself out and that I needed to get there to give her a ride home. I ended up borrowing a few bucks from a friend in order to make the trip.

When I arrived at the facility, she was flipping out and angry. She looked at me with so much hatred that I knew there was no way I was going to give this another chance. We walked out of the facility, I drove to a convenience store and bought myself a pack of cigarettes. This was the first pack I had bought in nearly 10 years but I knew that in order to survive that drive, I was going to need them. The trip home was excruciating, her screaming into my ear for most of the trip about one thing or another.

marlboro

When we got home, the screaming continued for a couple of hours and she eventually decided that she was going to take a nap. I sat down and enjoyed a couple of moments of peace, knowing at any moment the bedroom door would open and she would be back at it.  I was correct as a little over 15 minutes later she was back in my face swearing at me for more than an hour. The kids had been at a friend’s house and when they came home suddenly, she stopped screaming and went back into the bedroom for several hours.

At the time, I was taking Ambien due to my severe insomnia, so around 10pm, after the kids were fast asleep, I took my pill and went to bed. A few moments later she tore into me again about everything she had said earlier. If you have ever taken Ambien before, when it hits, it hits. I told her I needed to go to sleep, and tried as best as I could to do just that. This is the end of what I remember of the night…

From what I have gathered, shortly after attempting to fall asleep, she had once again began screaming and poured a glass of sweet tea all over me. For those that don’t know, I hate being sticky. I’m told that I must have left shortly after that because I showed up at one friends house and spoke to them in garbled sentences for a little over an hour, dripping wet from the sweet tea. After that, I’m told, I drove to another friends house, told them I had been thrown out and that I needed a place to stay for a bit. This was the friend I spoke about in an earlier post, the atheist friend from high school. He said I could stay as long as I needed to and allowed me to crash on his couch.

Downey

That is what I have been told happened that night because the next thing I remember is waking up in a strange house, in a strange room, filled with strange things that I had no recollection of. I seriously feared that I had broken into someones house, the feeling was not a good one. I also could not understand why the hell I was so god damned sticky. As I began to gather my bearings I realized that I had been in this house before, and that it was a safe place for me to be. Shortly after my friend walked into the room and informed me of what had occurred the night before.

This would be my living arrangement for the next month as I sorted everything out. If it hadn’t been for the few friends I had made just prior to leaving the ministry, I don’t know what I would have done. During that month, the only way I was allowed to see the children was if I agreed to have sex with my ex. This went on a couple of times before I couldn’t stand it anymore and cut things off completely. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t see the kids anymore but at the same time I had broken free from a horrible situation. I was both liberated and crushed.

Towards the end of my month stay, I decided to go through my past and seek out people who I might have hurt, both prior to becoming a minister and as a minister. I found that shortly after leaving the ministry and after getting thrown out of my house, all of the anger and hatred from the years passed began to melt away. I realized that in many of the relationships I had throughout the past, I had been at fault for much of what had gone on and wanted to personally atone for those issues.

This was a stark contrast to my time in the faith when I would atone through asking forgiveness and not actually seek to fix the broken and burnt bridges I had caused. The first person I knew I would seek out was the beautiful redheaded girl who had hurt me almost a decade earlier. We had divorced and the pain from that relationship had eventually driven me into the arms of faith and now out I could see much clearer exactly what had happened. I found her on Facebook and sent her a friend request, she accepted it almost immediately.

I sat there for what seemed like forever and eventually typed out these words…

“Hey, you look like a girl I used to know.”

To continue on to part 26, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 24

For part 23 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

““How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.” – Jeremiah 8:8 ESV

My marriage was a wreck, my schooling was going well, and my ministry was still decent but I was definitely not happy. The more I learned in my studies the less of the bible made sense. I took a world civilization course and found that there were thriving civilizations, pretty much the world over, by the time that any of the biblical stories were to have taken place. For fun, and yes…I’m odd, I took a geology course and found that there is absolutely no evidence for a biblical flood. Philosophy taught me that good people could be found outside the walls of faith. My worldview was beginning to crumble and my mind would back to the thoughts about my cousin’s suicide, a topic that I tried to avoid because of how it made me feel about my faith.

Around this time another book of Plato’s fell into my hands. It was “Apology,” which speaks of the trial and death of Socrates. Within its pages, the ruling class brings charges against Socrates for corrupting the youth with his teachings. Socrates, then lays out exactly why he wasn’t wrong to speak on the subjects that he did and goes on to explain why he feels like he is being wrongly accused. The trial ends and Socrates is sentenced to death, his followers attempt to steal him away to safety but he stands firm and drinks the poison given to him, knowing that it does more harm to those who accused him, to kill an innocent man, than to drink the poison and end his own life.

The man who had become the epitome of goodness had ended his own life by drinking the poison given to him. He could have run and hid but instead he met his fate with dignity. I remember thinking, does that mean that Socrates is in hell? Now I realize that there is debate on whether Socrates was an actual person but that really didn’t matter to me, what did was the idea that a god would send anyone as good as Socrates to hell was not a good god. Could it even be called a god?

For several months I had attempted to preach in a way that was acceptable to me. That meant basically throwing out the bible, outside of a starter scripture for the sermon, and then speaking on what I had learned through my studies and through reading philosophy. I began to realize that the people in the seats weren’t even actually listening to the words coming out of my mouth. If I raised my voice, I would get a spattering of “amens” regardless of what I was talking about. If I stomped my feet, I’d get a “Hallelujah,” shouted from someone in the congregation. I found that I could literally talk about anything and still the same responses would be heard from the congregation.

So one Sunday, I went to church and began my sermon with no scripture. In its place I read:

“Now it is time that we were going, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.”

If you are a fan of philosophy and have read the works of Plato, you will be able to tell that the line I just wrote is from Plato’s apology. I then preached a sermon surrounding the idea of a good man being torn apart by those who would seek to have him silenced. Never once did I mention god, not once did I refer to the bible or Jesus.  I still received the same “amen’s” and “hallelujah.” Afterwards, only one of the people in the congregation said anything about the quality of the sermon, and this person said they had never heard a sermon that was so good.

After that I continued to preach mostly philosophy, using quotes that I found interesting from Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, etc… Never once did anyone try to get me back on biblical topics and yet still the same responses from my congregation. This worked well for a while, yet I still felt horrificly empty inside. My life was a mess and around this point I started having health issues.

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One morning I woke up to get out of bed and found that my legs were completely numb. After about 30 minutes I managed to get out of bed and some of the feeling returned to my legs. Walking became increasingly hard and I was forced to purchase a cane in order to get around. The doctors that I visited were completely stumped on what was causing my sudden health issues. They ran countless tests and outside of some arthritis in my back, nothing else could be found that was wrong with me. For me, the fact that they couldn’t find anything wrong with me was worse than if they had found something seriously wrong.

Due to my health issues, my mental state deteriorated even more. I no longer cared about anything, I would arrive at services without having given a single thought to what I was going to speak on, though did it really matter? No one was actually paying attention to what I was saying anyway. During one sermon, I had a bit of a breakdown, at least that is what I believe it was, because halfway through my sermon, I stopped talking and just stared blankly out at the congregation. Five minutes must have passed when I finally came to, and instead of continuing speaking, I instead went into a diatribe about all the reasons why I believe Star Trek is better in quality to Star Wars…I actually did get talked to after this sermon, though it was by a young boy in the church who completely disagreed with my assertions.

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One Sunday morning, I stood around after the service and sat down in the front pew. With everyone gone, I finally found the courage to ask what had been on the tip of my tongue for so long…”Are you real, god?” I began shaking profusely, crying my eyes out, and begging for god to show himself to me and prove his existence. I beat at my chest and screamed at the top of my lungs. I knelt down and pleaded, “God, if you are real, now is the time to show me, I’m at the end of my rope, if you don’t make yourself real to me again, I may end my own life.” My prayers were not answered, no miraculous appearing was to be had, and after a while, I picked myself up and walked out the door.

“Are you real, god?”

Later that day I confided in two people about my doubts. The first was my wife at the time. I told her that I no longer believed the bible was true and that I was questioning if god was real as well. Not long after this would I find out how bad the decision to confide in my wife had been.

The second person, was another minister. He informed me that everyone went through periods of doubt like I did and that it was completely normal. He said the key was to fake your faith until your faith becomes real to you again. That’s basically what I had been doing and it made me feel disgusting. Hearing him speak those words though did something to me, it confirmed to me that other ministers didn’t believe in god and were faking it. How many ministers in my past had been faking it, all while telling us how we are less than perfect without god and that we need to believe without question? I was sick both physically and mentally and I knew that something had to change.

A month went by and still I had no answers, the bible no longer made any sense, my faith made no sense, my life made no sense, and my heart was empty. I could barely walk, I had absolutely awful insomnia, my guts were ripping me apart and I would start to do something and completely lose focus after a few moment. My life was absolute hell. Something had to change and if god didn’t show himself to me, I would take matters into my own hands.

“I could barely walk, I had absolutely awful insomnia, my guts were ripping me apart…”

I spent most of the next week in prayer, once again asking god to reveal himself to me. I would say:

It’s Monday morning god, you have 6 days to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Wednesday morning god, you have 4 days to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Friday night god, you have 1 day to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Sunday morning god and I’m sitting in church, you have 10 minutes to reveal yourself to me.

When no revelation occurred, I walked up to the pulpit, gave a heartfelt message about lost love and how we all know the feeling of being lost, I finished my sermon by saying that I was lost. I blamed my health issues and told the church that I needed some time off to collect my thoughts and hopefully get better physically.

I went home that day with an immense feeling of freedom. I walked into my home and I sat down on my bed and began reading some Plato. My wife was out of the house and I believed she was having another affair which would soon be confirmed. When she arrived home, she found me sitting there reading my book. It was close to time for Sunday night services and she asked me if I would be going to church soon. I looked at her straight in the eye, I said:

“No, I’m not going to church tonight or possibly ever again. I want a divorce.”

To continue on to part 25, click here.

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #3: Astrology

For last weeks Wednesday Woo, Click here.

“The criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” — Karl Popper

If you’ve ever been on social media, there’s no doubt you’ve come across astrological personality memes, articles regarding planetary influence or some form of vague horoscope. Most of the claims are rather general and often harmless, but others have a tendency to show an ugly bias that is based on one’s personal experience with certain signs as opposed to actual statistics. Every assumption can be made about certain sun signs or planetary aspects, including a person’s taste in entertainment, whether or not they are prone to accidents, how much they talk, or even crazy things that arouse suspicion, such as: “Geminis are more likely to lie and to cheat on you.” Holy shit! For real? I guess I’d better steer clear of those lyin’, cheatin’ Geminis, right? But wait, there’s a “study” that came out recently that ranked Sagittarius as the most likely to cheat on their partners. Then again, here’s another “study” that says Sagittarius is least likely to cheat. What is going on here? Why aren’t these astrologers coming to the same conclusions?

“Holy shit! For real? I guess I’d better steer clear of those lyin’, cheatin’ Geminis, right?”

While astrology is really popular, and can be quite amusing as entertainment, one cannot help but wonder about their true value. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s a valid way of thinking. Is astrology truly a reliable form of science, or is it a pseudoscience? This is often one of many questions poised to astrologers, and it seems to really be a thorn in the side of their profession. Astrologers have big claims about the predictive nature of their methods, as well as what a natal chart can reveal about an individual’s personal nature. These claims, of course, are unfalsifiable, which plants a big, red flag in the astrologer’s corner. Real science provides conditions where a claim can be proven false (falsifiable), whereas astrologers leave absolutely no room for this, and instead, only seek confirmation of their claims while ignoring any evidence to the contrary. There’s no peer review, nor any evidence that planets and stars impact personal aspects of our lives. This is not how science works, but it is exactly what one would expect from pseudoscience. As Carl Sagan asserted, “Extraordinary claims requite extraordinary evidence.” So, where is the evidence?

There is no scientific basis for the notion of far away planets or constellations have any intimate influence on human lives in the way astrology claims. Many astrologers will use gravity to argue their position, since the tides are affected by the moon’s pull, and our bodies mostly consist of water. They don’t take into account that the moon’s gravitational influence only includes open bodies of water, not the enclosed water within our bodies. Astrologers will also assert that technology, communication, travel and contractual obligations are not a good idea during mercury retrograde, but they do not seem to offer a real reason other than folklore. Is this a gravitational phenomenon as well? That to me is doubtful, since Mercury retrograde is mostly an optical illusion. Despite there being no evidence to believe that retrogrades and moon phases have anything to to with our lives, these myths are still believed so fervently that every few months you will see all kind of crazy memes and articles shared about retrogrades and super moons. A new shift occurs just as soon as people get over the last, and most believers attribute them to planetary activity. One thing I always found strange personally, was that astrology does not take into account the gravitational pull of airplanes passing over those who live next to airports, or the massive ships in which those on the coasts are exposed. If gravity is truly the most influential aspect of a person’s natal chart, why aren’t the flight patterns included, or even traffic of nearby cars? These would actually have more of a gravitational impact on a person than any of the planets outside of our own.

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When the validity of astrology has actually been tested, their predictions and assessments work at a rate no better than chance. Like I said before, the astrologers can’t seem to even agree on interpretation of charts they studied. If it were a truly accurate and predictive source of understanding reality, surely there would be no personal bias involved. But it turns out, it’s mostly based on intuitive feelings (*cough* cold reading *cough*) the chart reader has when gazing upon the chart positions and its many aspects. Despite this lack of evidence, astrologers all over the world still maintain they are providing a useful service, oftentimes charging lots of money in order to provide answers to people who are desperate to find romance, riches, or good fortune. The situation is really bad in India, where not only are they charged for astrological services, but also duped into buying gemstones to alter their fortune; sometimes even urged to change their names and location.

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One again, confirmation bias rules supreme in the world of woo, and since astrology is so deeply connected to various lore, I would be surprised if belief in it vanished into the dark ages from which they came. The desire to assign anthropomorphic features to stellar objects seems to bring a mystifying allure that is difficult to overcome. I cannot say that it has been completely useless in our development to take such interests in the stars and planets, for it has paved the way for astronomy and physics. What I can express is the desire to know the truth about our reality, and in order to do this, I must find credible data and evidence to justify things I believe. I used to believe in astrology, so much so I dedicated large portions of my day to study natal charts and their progression. After a long standing faith in this idea, I finally decided to take apply critical analysis, and it did not hold up to scrutiny once I began thinking with more skepticism, and definitely fell apart once I understood the scientific concept of falsifiability. The conclusion I came to: astrology is a historically outdated and empirically wrong form of pseudoscience that holds no justification for belief.

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My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 23

For part 22 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?” “Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.” -Voltaire “Candide”

The thing about “Candide” isn’t so much that it is a work of philosophy, or that it changed my outlook on life but that I saw, so very much myself in the title character, that it shook me to the core. if you haven’t read this title, I will try not to spoil it too much, but I must describe a bit to put you into my mindset. The title character of the story starts life in a perfect environment and it being taught the philosophy of optimism. From this point Candide falls in love, loses his love, searches the earth for his love, and in the end gets to be with his love but not in the way he saw it happening. Throughout the chapters, Candide is forced to see that the world is not an optimistic place and that his whole worldview from the beginning had been completely wrong.

From this book I saw the story of my life.  I too had started out thinking that I knew everything I would need to know in order to get through life. Thinking I understood how the world worked, through the eyes of my faith, had led me down a path that had left me empty and lost.  I even saw that I was in the place of the title character at the end of the story, after going through what life had thrown at me, being controlled by numerous outside sources, and in the end settling for a life of solitude where I could fake that I was happy in the right moments. Needless to say, this was not a particularly good feeling.

Upon returning the book to my professor, I asked him if he had any other suggestions. He recommended me to grab some of the works of Plato and start reading through them. My ex had owned Plato’s “Republic,” and had left it when she moved out. It had sat on my shelf for many years gathering dust.  So that night I pulled it down and started reading.  While I have always considered myself an avid reader, I will admit that at times I had to stop and restart huge sections of the book in order to take it all in. The book confused me a great deal and in all honesty made me angry from time to time.

Why did the book make me angry? Being raised in the Pentecostal church I had been told from my earliest days that the church was the source of justice, morality, and goodness; this book challenged those ideas greatly. Within its pages I found a great man, who set for himself one goal, to understand whatever topic he is speaking about to the very fullest. In time, Socrates would come to replace Christ in my mind. Where Christ gave shallow, sweet sounding answers that in reality meant nothing, Socrates, would hit a topic so hard that by the end you couldn’t help but be in awe of his amazing reasoning capability.

I began to devour everything that I could by Plato and each time I felt further from the faith of my birth and closer to some great truth that was yet to be found.  My daily life had once included many hours studying the bible and yet now I found as my eyes wandered through its pages, no sense of morality that I couldn’t find a better example of in the works of philosophy. My struggle with the bible was becoming a great hindrance to my sermons. Writing sermons had been one of my favorite parts of the ministry for a long time but now when I sought scriptures in the bible, it was as if a veil had been lifted and all I saw was moral discrepancy.

For every passage that speaks of love another will speak of fear. Scriptures dealing with justice will ultimately wind their way into stories of genocide and mass murder. The god of the old testament is cruel, impatient, unloving, jealous and for lack of a better word, evil. The god of the new testament seems a bit better but then his “son” brings in the idea of Hell, a place of eternal punishment for all those who might question “the celestial dictator,” as Christopher Hitchens would call him.  A book that had become so central to my life for all these years was now like reading through the ramblings of a serial killer, and so my sermons began to speak less and less on scripture and more about various aspects of life with a simple scripture to start them out.

I did however preach at least one more hate filled sermon and I speak of it now as a man who regrets it deeply. Growing up I had always been taught that homosexuality was a horrible sin and while my beliefs on this matter were beginning to change, my childhood indoctrination was not yet ready to admit defeat. So one Sunday I preached on the topic of homosexuality in the worst of terms, it was the last time I ever mentioned the topic in a sermon but I still hurt from the pain it caused.

Another one of my cousins had been attending my services and was sitting in during this sermon. I would later find out about the inner struggle he was facing and that my sermon had kept him in the closet for several years longer than he should have had to wait. I love my cousin and today he is in a relationship with a wonderful guy who loves him dearly, I am happy for them but I will forever regret the pain that I caused him as he sat through that sermon.

Outside of that sermon, I was finding that less and less of the bible even made sense. It might be strange to hear but I did truly believe that a serpent talked to Eve, that a donkey spoke to its master, that a flood did cover the entire globe, that a man had been swallowed by a great fish and survived, as well as that Moses had led several million people through the desert without leaving so much as a trace of evidence. These were things that I had accepted for so many years that I never found the need to question them, that is until I began using the Socratic method on everything I read.

Outside of church and school I had recently reconnected with a friend from High School. He is a jovial sort of man who you just can’t help but smile and laugh when you are around him. We had fallen out of contact when I had moved to Texas but I learned upon our reconnecting that he too had been through a struggle of faith, having been in a local cult for 7 years, he was now an atheist. His cousin who had also left the cult at the same time became my friend as well and it was strange to me how much I enjoyed being around them. By all accounts, at least in my mind, these men were godless sinners on the way to hell, yet I found a friendship with the two of them that I had never really experienced in the church. They weren’t friends with me because of what I believed but because of who I was and that was a situation I hadn’t experienced since the early days of my first marriage.

Life was becoming less and less recognizable to what it had once been. I began to question everything about my faith. What I could reason as being likely I still preached on, what I couldn’t I threw out. I had gone from a staunch Pentecostal full of anger and contempt for anyone outside the church and had now become an almost liberal pastor who talked more about social justice and reform than I did about the life and teachings of Christ. I still considered myself a Christian but at the same time it was becoming harder and harder for me to tell you what a Christian was supposed to be.

To continue on to part 24, click here.

 

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 22

For part 21 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil.” – Martin Luther

Looking back, I can’t help but believe that the reason I didn’t get removed from the ministry that day is because of two factors. The first factor is that I believe the majority of the church simply thought that I was in a deep state of grief, which I was, and that I should be given some leeway in the things I said. The second is that my family made up a large portion of the church and it was probably thought that the votes needed to remove me from my ministerial duties wouldn’t have been there and that if they just removed me without a vote, my family would no longer be tithing members of the church.  Regardless of those factors I would continue preaching there for the next couple of years.

“Of course my cousin wasn’t in hell, he was demon possessed, and thus it wasn’t him that had done the deed but the demon controlling him.”

When I got home, I was still just as angry and distraught as I had been prior to giving the sermon. I began searching the scriptures and came up empty.  I searched on-line for ministers who have spoken on suicide and found the quote above. Whether or not it is actually Martin Luther didn’t matter to me, what did matter was that it gave me an out from my own doctrinal beliefs. Of course my cousin wasn’t in hell, he was demon possessed, and thus it wasn’t him that had done the deed but the demon controlling him. He had been saved in my church and was now resting peacefully in heaven.

With the first doubt somewhat removed from my mind, I felt better and went to work on my second problem. Our church was losing members and the excitement that had been felt when I first started preaching was no longer there. We needed revival but I wanted to know how to do it in the right fashion, so it could be permanent and not a fleeting thing. For years I had been told of the great revivals in the 1950’s, and so I figured, why not start there. So getting on-line I began researching sermons from the 1950’s.

The first thing that struck me was that the sermons I read had a clear theme. These ministers from the 1950’s were talking about the revivals that had occurred in the distant past and how they needed to find some way to make those revivals a reality again. So I went further back into the past and found the same thing, ministers speaking about the need for revival and speaking of mythical revivals in the distant past. I know revivals have occurred sparking huge numbers of converts but it seems like every generation is attempting to chase after something that the last generation never fully captured.

“…every generation is attempting to chase after something that the last generation never fully captured.”

The second thing that struck me is how “spirit filled” some of the messages were that had been given and yet before the 1920’s I could find very few references to Pentecostalism.  It was actually a huge surprise to me to find that Pentecostalism is a very new version of the faith, a little more than 100 years old. Now I had been raised to believe that anyone outside of the Pentecostal church was not really saved and so either, every Christian born prior to the 1900’s was in hell, or Pentecostalism was wrong.

If Pentecostals were wrong about salvation, then possibly they were wrong about other aspects of the faith. I decided to reboot my Christianity, calling it “Radical Christianity.” This was going to take a lot of research and time but I felt that if I re-figured my doctrine and dogma, I could move closer to god and closer to real revival. If the bible didn’t teach it then I would not be preaching on it.  I started with the early church fathers like Origen, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Polycarp, yet the more I read the more it seemed like I was researching a completely different faith.  That’s the thing though, Christianity of the early years is in fact a completely different faith than what is taught today. (For more on this I recommend this article about the diverse beliefs of early christians.

There was however one man who I began reading that I found to be absolutely fascinating, Martin Luther. Martin Luther fought back against a church that had completely lost its way, much in the same way that I felt I was currently doing. His work “A Treatise on Good Works,” completely mesmerized me. Within he describes how faith is the key to a Christian life and from faith good works will ultimately spill forth. This was exactly the type of thing I needed to hear at the time and so my search for “Radical Christianity” was found within the words of the man that had comforted me after my cousin’s suicide.

For a couple of months I preached on nothing but the works of Martin Luther and his explanations of faith. Standing before a Pentecostal church, I denounced the showy and emotional observances of Pentecostalism.  I began to become very skeptical of pentecostal spiritualism and so I researched the various things that were the norm in the church.  Each time I found enough information to disprove an act, I would preach on it and this led to several angry phone calls but not much else. I preached against speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit, and I even preached against miracles. To me, one of the key aspects of “Radical Christianity” was removing the need to feel god and simply know he is always around. Pentecostalism is built almost totally around emotional outbursts and I sought to eliminate every aspect of that from my walk of faith.

Initially, I felt great about the choices I made and this toned down Pentecostalism was beginning to gather some steam. We had Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and others show up and sit in on a sermon I would give and in the end thank me for a message that they never expected to be taught in a Pentecostal church. The church once again began to slowly grow and talk of revival started once more, yet spiritually I was empty. While I felt I was teaching a much more Christian version of the faith, I not only felt no closer to god than I had at the very beginning, I actually felt farther away.

Outside the church, my marriage continued to crumble but there was one thing that was bringing me the same sense of fulfillment that church once had, my schooling.  College allowed me to expand my mind like you wouldn’t believe. I took classes in almost anything that I found interesting; history, science, literature, ethics, etc… Growing up being taught a biblical based worldview left me not understanding very much about the outside world and so at the same time as being ignorant educationally, I was also xenophobic, homophobic and racist. Being in school though, with a diverse group of people, started to tear down those walls that faith and family had built up so many years before.

I remember sitting in my grandfathers kitchen, watching him throw out a loaf of bread stating that he could smell the N***** fingers that had made it.  Being anti-LGBTQ was key to my fundamentalist faith and I’ve preached many sermons over the years against the members of that community. We were taught that family was important and to fear anyone outside of your family and your local church, for fear that they might hurt you, or worse, lead you away from the faith.

These things could not stand when I entered college. Being forced to work with members of the LGBTQ community, minorities, and all sorts of diverse ideologies opened my mind even further than the studies did. I will forever be grateful to those who saw me back then, realized I wasn’t quite right, and yet still treated me with dignity and respect. You were far greater saints that I can find anywhere else in the world of faith.

During my second semester of school I took a western civilization course. One of the assignments was to pick a book of philosophy, study it, and take a test on what was found within its pages. I wasn’t very interested in philosophy at the time and so I asked the instructor for a book that would be fairly easy to understand. Knowing my background, this professor, who happened to be a staunch atheist, picked a book that he hoped I would enjoy and that might challenge me a bit. The book was “Candide,” by Voltaire, a book that I still recommend to anyone I possibly can and one that would change my outlook on life, spark an interest in philosophy, and lead me down a path I never thought I would take.

To continue on to part 23, click here.