The answer, no…no it doesn’t…
The answer, no…no it doesn’t…
Good Evening Heathens and Hell-Bound friends and foes alike. For the last article on this subject, click here: Inoculation Against Indoctrination: Atheists? Before I push forward in this series I thought there was another topic that I would touch upon. I think it’s necessary to understand how indoctrination affects the adult mind before we go into how someone can be indoctrinated.
I’m several years outside of the walls of religious faith and so I think it puts me in a position where I can discuss the side-effects that still cling around after someone leaves the faith. These things are going to be especially true the more fundamentalist you were in your former faith. If you were from one of the more liberal Christianities these issues are probably not as severe yet you may experience them to some degree, even if slightly. So without further ado, here are the side effects of religious indoctrination.
It is incredibly hard for me to trust someone at face value. After years of religious indoctrination, if you aren’t willing to show me some evidence for why I should trust you, it’s not going to happen. I realized after 30 years that my life was based on a lie, a lie that people might have told me with good intentions, but a lie nonetheless.
For years my life had been built around something that was doing deep harm to my mind. It was shaping the way I saw people, made me fear the outside world and cling to the faith harder and harder. I knew that if I strayed from the faith it would mean death and punishment so I clung even harder. Once I got away from it, I realized how deluded I had been and so today I still fear deluding myself again, or having someone else feed me their delusions.
So you are taught for years that everyone outside the faith wants to do you harm. They are after one thing only, to destroy your soul. You know that lady or man who smiled at you, she is going to lead you into temptation. Science spends billions of dollars per year with the sole purpose of causing you to believe in evolution and thus disbelieve in the bible.
This anxiety does not go away simply because you’ve realized it’s a lie. I still have great issues accepting invites from friends as well as a severe fear of meeting new people. My mind still instantly goes to how this person might try to get me to sin.
Many people who come out of faith have issues with depression. This can come from a feeling of hopelessness, a loss of community, or being disowned by family and friends. Some people who leave the faith lose their jobs and have great financial struggles.
There are of course organizations that can help, for example I’m a member of The Clergy Project, a foundation set up to help former ministers find a community and new direction in life. Other organizations might provide financial support or counselling to those in need. However, depression is not something that you can really beat, at least not in my opinion. I still struggle with depression to this day and will more than likely struggle with depression the rest of my life. Religion was such a huge part of my life and now it’s gone, I realize that it was simply bells and whistles but they were bells and whistles that my entire life was centered around.
This one is bigger with those who are former members of the Clergy. I have huge regrets over the things that I taught for many years. I preached doctrine and dogma, and so I preached that homosexuality was a sin, that if you were a sinner you were going to hell, and that salvation could be found through a human sacrifice. Children sat in the front rows during my services and I warned them of the evils in the world that would constantly try to lead them away from the faith.
Proudly I can say that the majority of kids who were in my church are actually now atheists. I often wonder if they questioned their beliefs after finding out that their former minister had rejected his own. Even so that would do little to remove the regret that I feel for every single sermon I ever gave on and subject that I now think completely different about.
The Fear of Hell
This one never goes away, it sits in the back of your mind like a time-bomb waiting to go off at any moment. I can be watching TV and all of a sudden have images of hell enter my mind. I’ve awoken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because I dreamed that I had gone to hell and was burning for all eternity.
The religious will try to use this fact as evidence for the existence of hell. They will say, how can you fear something that you don’t believe is going to happen. Isn’t the fear of hell evidence that hell exists and that god must also exist? No, it simply means that I was taught to believe in hell from as young as I can remember and those lessons are still deep within my mind. It is just a sign of the indoctrination and not a sign of any truth to that indoctrination.
In the End
It’s clear that the taint of faith will forever be on my mind. You cannot be taught something for nearly 30 years and then just believe it’s going to go away. The good news is that the longer that I am away from the faith, the less I experience these side-effects. Maybe one day they will cease to exist entirely but I doubt that. Something tells me that no matter how long I am away from the faith I will still have some issue that faith caused. My anxiety is getting better but it’s still there, my trust issues are lessened but still there, I still suffer from depression and regret, and I will never fully remove the fear that was driven into me as a child about hell.
Religious indoctrination is abuse, no question in my mind, and like any abuse I will always be tainted by the hand that beat me, that told me I couldn’t live without it, and that promised if I ever left I would be punished. That hand is religion, and it definitely poisons everything.
If you could see the pain in my heart
When laughter breaks the calm
Knowing I’m the brunt of the joke
For doing something wrong.
I jumble my words before they exit
My mind it clearly sees
Superiority in your eyes
Looking upon me like a flea
You have no idea, how hurt I am.
Because quietly I sit showing no pain.
The pain in my mind surges forward
My thoughts the pain does claim.
I only wish to be accepted
As another human being
Yet laughter crushes the man inside
I’m broken, torn, and bleeding.
Remember, guest bloggers are always encouraged to submit articles for Free-Thought Friday. For last weeks post explaining the expectations, click here.
Jennifer is the love of my life. Though she practiced New Age Spirituality as an adult, she was raised in a very fundamentalist form of Christianity. I think you will find her story interesting, heartbreaking, and definitely eye-opening.
The following story is one of abuse and heartache. If you know of any child that is being abused, please be their advocate, speak out for them. Some of Jennifer’s pain might have been lessened if someone had picked up the phone and actually done something.
To report child abuse call the national child abuse hotline 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453)
I was raised as a Christian in the deep south by two very strict fundamentalists. My dad was the stricter of the two, and did not allow me to cut my hair, pierce my ears, go to public school, listen to secular music of any kind, or wear blue jeans. He dressed me up like a cliché pentecostal girl, and it was quite embarrassing to go out in public. My mom was pretty much the stigma of the passive good wife, submitting completely to a husband who was emotionally and physically abusive. This man was a tyrant, and had ridiculous notions of reality. This was during the 80’s and 90’s, so the AIDS scare was in full force, and my father has fallen for the rhetoric of stupid the entire time I’ve known him. He was full of hatred for gays, and I recall an occasion where we had visited a fast food place where the server seemed slightly effeminate. This sounded alarm bells for my dad, and despite the fact that he, having been a mere cashier, didn’t even touch the food, dad threw the bags immediately in trash. Since we hadn’t had anything to eat that day, we were starving, so it was quite the outrageous overreaction. Before this, I hadn’t really questioned theism much, but having finally reached the age of reason (I was 11 at the time), I began to wonder if these beliefs were worthy of holding if they led to such irrational hatred for others who were different.
After having spent years being beaten and emotionally scarred by this man, mom and I started to feel as though the relationship wasn’t working out, so we made plans to leave him behind and go out in the world on our own. Still the good little god-loving girl, I prayed and prayed for mom to leave, and for him to be with us during these struggles so we would be safe. Well, that didn’t work out so well. We would leave, and she kept falling for his charms and empty promises of change. Each time they reunited, the abuse got worse for me. He felt I had betrayed him, and made his feeling clear every time I walked by with a pinch of my arm, a slap to the back of my head, or a hateful glare. He would do this to me, then go over to mom and whisper sweet nothings until she would giggle like a doe-eyed teenager. This made me utterly sick, and I didn’t understand why she had chosen to continuously to go back to him. I knew he would just hit, kick, and choke her again after he felt comfortable enough in the relationship to do so. In tears, I reached out to god, but it no longer felt as though he were present; instead there was a cold emptiness and sense of total abandonment, betrayal, and utter lack of regard for my life. I felt I had no one – for dad had isolated us both from other family members, and now it seemed there was absolutely no one in the world who cared about my well-being, especially my parents.
Of course, as it always did, the abuse escalated to the point where our lives were put at risk nearly every other day. To make matters worse, my parents started traveling hundreds of miles to see a psychiatrist for ADD medication. They even coached me on how to tell the doctor my “symptoms” so they could get me on these drugs, which to this very day baffles me. So anyway, we were all now on legal amphetamines, but my dad took it to a whole new level – crushing up his meds and putting them in his coffee. Of course, he started seeing shit that wasn’t there, and going even more insane with the paranoia. He had always been paranoid, in fact, he had moved us to the middle of nowhere Arkansas, since he felt the “leftist government” was after him because he was a prophet who got messages from god. We bought tons of food (and of course, lots of guns) to prepare for the inevitable apocalypse that would come as a result of the government allowing gays and non-believers to take over the country. All of that was nonsense, but I wasn’t really aware of how crazy it was until he started going off on these rants about it while high on the meds. By this time, I was almost 13, and completely sick and tired of dad’s bullshit. I told mom we had to leave, and she concurred, but argued the timing wasn’t right, and if we tried to leave with him acknowledging our plans, we would kill us. In heed of her warning, and under the influence of the drugs, I began carrying a pocketknife – just in case.
A few months passed in this same manner, until we had to take the long trip to the doctor to get more meds to fuel dad’s insanity. We went to the appointment, then dad decided he wanted to check out the electronics store, but told us to stay in the truck. It was the month of May, in the state of Texas, so it began to get really hot after a few hours of him lollygagging around in the air-conditioned store. I was in the bed of the truck, which had a metal camper over it, and a beanbag chair for me to sit on. Despite how hot it was, neither one of us dared leave the truck to find relief. If we had, dad would lose his mind. We waited for 6 hours while he bullshitted with clerks inside, and of course, had nothing to eat the entire time. Finally, around dusk, he came out of the store with bags full of electronic parts he would never use. He drove to a catfish place in the city, and ordered a huge amount of food, and proceeded to head toward home eating his food while we both sat there patiently awaiting a morsel. After he had finished what he wanted, he finally offered me a piece of catfish, when mom made the horrid mistake of asking if she could have some. He became extremely irate, proclaiming that she was too fat to eat any, and screamed at her for hours about it. He would brake really hard to express his anger, and swerve all over the road screaming at the top of his lungs, “I WILL KILL YOU BOTH AND ASK GOD FOR FORGIVENESS LATER!!” My mom cried and pleaded with him to stop, but he wouldn’t. I sat in the back, with the sliding window between the truck bed and the front open, witnessing this whole thing in a terrified but angered state of mind, tightening the grip on my pocketknife, and waiting for the right moment to stab him in the neck so we could get out of this alive. There was no way I was going to do it while he was still driving, though. He finally pulled over, and I contemplated whether or not the situation merited a knife, but it seems he had finally calmed down after several hours of the tirade, so I put my knife away. One thing I noticed, I no longer was praying to god to save us, I was relying on myself for preservation instead.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
The day of my second appointment I was far less worried. The drive there still bothered me greatly as I hate long drives. We reached the office about a half an hour early and I sat down in the waiting room. Thoughts of my life passed through my mind.
I remembered how hard childhood had been, never knowing what to say or how to take the things that others said to me. Making friends is difficult when you don’t recognize the difference between sarcasm and actual anger, or realize that you should offer comfort to someone who is sad. I remembered my teenage years, spent in part trying to do everything I could in order to be seen as “normal” and then spending the second part of those years doing everything I could to not be seen as anything close to normal.
I remembered the first time Jennifer and I had been together, how much love I had felt for her in those early moments and how much deeper my love for her is now that we have reconnected. I felt the pain of losing her go through my mind and the struggles I faced trying to put my life back together. All the times that I wanted to give up and yet still pushed forward regardless of the circumstances.
I thought about my second marriage, how I had tried finding someone who was the exact opposite of Jennifer, somehow thinking that this would lead to happiness. Remembered all the pain I went through but all of the joy as well spending time with my two-step children from that marriage. Watching them grow has been one of the favorite parts of my life and it still is.
I thought of my cousin, who had lived a parallel life as me. Had he been autistic? Were the struggles that he faced caused by the same source as my own battles in life? He had always seemed to be more outgoing but hearing stories from others around him, he was always distant, cold, and preferred to be alone. Would he still be here today if he had sought out the help of a psychologist instead of the dogmatic dog whistles of his cousins ministry?
I thought about my nephew, that small bundle of joy that had cleared the path to my own mental health and stability. If he hadn’t existed would I ever have known the name to my own struggled? I know he has many struggles to face in life and it won’t be easy, but he is smart and loving, an absolute joy to be around, especially for the uncle who understands him so well. He is and always will be my hero.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the psychologist came and took me to a small room beside the reception area. I sat down behind a laptop computer and was explained the testing that I would be taking, a simple quiz of around 500 true/false questions. He told me that through the take home quiz and this one, he would be able to gauge exactly where on the spectrum I was.
I started taking the quiz and after about 100 questions the program crashed. He restarted it and I had to restart from the beginning, about 100 questions in the program crashed once more. He started it up again and the same thing happened. Contacting the IT department, he found out that the virus scan software was what was crashing the program. He disabled that and asked me if I was willing to try it once more, if not I could return in two weeks and try it again.
Thinking about the trip it takes to get there, I decided to give it another shot. After about 120 questions it acted as if it was going to crash, an icon appeared on the screen and simply spun for a few seconds. I yelled at the top of my lungs, “GOD DAMN IT!” The program then went on to the next question and I realized the ass that I had just made of myself. No one came in but I’m sure the receptionist got a bit of a scare from my loud outburst.
I finished the quiz, which continued to act as if it was going to crash every 20 questions or so, and went back to the waiting room. A few minutes later the psychologist asked me to come into his office to talk just a bit more. I sat on his couch and he asked me about a couple of the answers on the quiz. I explained the answers and he then said that he thought he had enough to come up with a complete diagnosis. He told me that since I had brought him all the information about the struggles throughout my life, it had been easy to see that I had been correct. He said he was impressed by all the research that I had done before even approaching a psychiatrist and that i had made his job very easy. It would be a couple of weeks before I got my copy of his report but there would be no surprises in there for me to worry about.
I drove home happy to be done with the long trips to the psychologists office. I had been right. I have ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. All the times that I had felt different from the outside world made sense to me now. All that I had been through in childhood and life in general were now clear. I wasn’t a failed human being, I was a whole human being, just one that happens to have ASD. My brain works in a wild and wonderful way that could never truly be understood by someone who does not also have autism. I am perfect, just the way I am.
If you’ve followed me throughout my entire journey and the epilogue, thank you. It might come as a shock to know this but outside of a few people close to me, you, the readers, are some of the first people to know about my journey towards a diagnosis with autism. Thank you so much for the kindness you have shown me.
My journey away from faith is fairly well-known in my community. I still live in the same area as I did when I was a minister. Initially, I had considered moving to a more suitable area for someone who lacks a faith. In the town where I live sits a gigantic mormon church, just on the outskirts of town there is a Jehovah’s Witness Temple, as well as several other churches. My own former church is just over 5 miles away from where i currently live. Moving away might have been an easy solution for me.
However, I want people to have that uncomfortable feeling they get when they avoid me in public. I want the former members of my church to see me, happy and healthy, while a growing sickness builds within their gut. I want their cognitive dissonance to be hit as hard as possible, they need to see that I am still the same person I was, just happier, not filled with hate, living a good life in their midst. It isn’t that these things bring me joy, in fact a lot of times they hurt, but I do think they serve a purpose.
Life experience led me away from faith, finding that faith lacked everything which I had believed it to hold. No comfort was found within the pages of the bible once my eyes had been opened. No strength was found in my faith to get me through the hardships I had to face. Religion is nothing more than a vast build-up of lies. We lie to ourselves enough that one day we find we believe those lies to be true, however, in many cases it doesn’t take much to tear that wall of lies down.
I love my life now. So much wonder and joy is found in the natural world that I question why I ever sought out a supernatural one to begin with. My indoctrination though had started long before I had actually reached an age to make my own decisions for me. I was taught that the world was a deeply sinful, scary and cold place; filled with evil does waiting to bring me down to their abyss. What I have found since leaving is that life is a wonderful thing, something that we only get to experience once. Religion had mad me hate this world and wish for the next…
As Christopher Hitchens is so famous for saying, “Religion poisons everything.”
“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.”
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.
““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.
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.
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.
“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.
Needless to say, the pastors words had shocked me quite a bit. How was I to respond? “Oh, Pastor, you know people don’t come back from the dead…” No, I still fervently believed in the resurrection of Christ at the time, but something told me that this miracle was not going to occur. My grandfather, a sweet man, took my silence to jump in and say that it would be an amazing miracle and that we would all be praying for god’s will to be done. We then said our goodbyes and got back into my grandfather’s truck.
“He’s lost his mind,” my grandfather said.
“No, he’s just deeply in grief, he’ll come too before the funeral.” I said, at least that is what I hoped.
The day of the funeral came and around the time it was going to start I received a phone call. It was a woman with the church saying that the head pastor had got the prayer chain going, he needed us all to pray so that god’s miracle could occur. I hung up the phone believing then that my grandfather had been right. I knew that his daughter was not going to be resurrected and that in the end he was just going to make a mess of her funeral. I learned later that when the funeral was just beginning, he had gotten up, gone to the front of the church and commanded her to get up. A few seconds later he did the same thing. He then screamed at the top of his lungs for Jesus to heal his daughter and yet still she lay still. I’ve been told that he nearly collapsed and was helped to his seat, the only words he said for the rest of the day was, “If only we had more faith.”
After that, a tension fell upon our church. Each Sunday that the head pastor preached, he would speak on faith and that not believing god could do something was the same as praying against a miracle to occur. I hate to say it but a few times went by when I did question if my lack of faith had been what had prevented the miracle that he had been so sure of. His sermons lacked energy and you could tell that he was a broken man. I felt awful for him but would pray daily that god would heal him of the depression that he had fallen into.
This went on for about 6 months and then one day he arrived at church in a positively manic mood. He was bouncing with excitement and couldn’t wait to speak before the church. When he took the stage he said that he understood what had prevented the miracle from occurring and he would make sure we never went through another struggle like he had experienced. He had been up one night, watching “Sid Roth’s: It’s Supernatural,” when a faith healer had been interviewed. She had talked about all the numerous healings that she had taken part in and that she was willing to teach anyone who was willing to listen how to do it. That night he had bought several of her books and a DVD of her miracle ministry.
“He had been up one night, watching “Sid Roth’s: It’s Supernatural,” when a faith healer had been interviewed.”
He then went on to say that he would like to lead a bible study based on her books and that he would be inviting other local churches to take part in it. The first night we would watch her video, and the next night we would read from her book and see if god would bring about the healings that she promised it would do. He was absolutely sure that if we just paid attention to what this faith healer had to say, we would see miracles and revival like we had never seen before.
I was very doubtful that anything could be found in this woman’s book that we couldn’t already find in the bible and even more so, I absolutely hated faith healers. From the first time I saw a Benny Hinn video tape at around the age of 7, I knew the whole thing was absolute bunk. I remember the scolding I got, from a church member, for asking why Mr. Hinn’s cameramen are never slain in the spirit like everyone else around them? I saw through the act even at that age. Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t believe that miracles could occur, I definitely believed in miracles, but I didn’t believe that god would be ok with people making money off of miracles.
The first night of the Bible study started like any other. We had an enjoyable song service, a testimony service and then the lights were dimmed so that we could watch the video. Within minutes I knew it was a complete and total scam. The first miracle shown was a woman being healed of legs that were different length, as an attempt to cure her back pain. This is one of the oldest cons in the book and I will include a video of the con below. The video isn’t the greatest quality but shows how old this trick is, basically you slip one shoe slightly off making it appear as if one leg is shorter and when you push the shoe back on it looks like the other leg has lengthened.
I was absolutely disgusted, but everyone around me was eating it up. This faith healers schtick was in the prayer-book she sold. While healing someone she would repeat a prayer from her book and the healing would occur. She said the reason that we didn’t see miracles was due to the fact that we weren’t praying with the right words, but lucky enough for us, god had spoken the correct words to her in a vision. She then went on to cure a man of his blindness, and another of her deafness. These are all common cons that fraud healers practice every day, they work by acting as if the persons ailment is worse than it actually is and playing off of it. So if someone says they have trouble hearing, you play it off as if they are fully deaf, trouble seeing, you play it off as if they are totally blind. It’s bullshit and they know it, but enough gullible people exist to keep the scam going. When the video ended, I sat in shock as people in the congregation, from several local churches, openly wept and praised god that we had been sent the answer to all of our prayers.
After that it was question and answer time. People would ask the head pastor a question and he would give a nonsense answer. I seethed in anger at some of the things I was hearing but probably would have kept my mouth shut until the pastor said one thing.
“This video has opened my eyes, the only book I’ll ever need for my ministry from here on out is this book,” holding up a book of prayer sold by the faith healer.
That was too much. I stood up and raised my hand to get the pastors attention. He acknowledged me and I asked, “Isn’t this entire thing contrary to what Christ taught about prayer in the bible?” He asked what I meant and I read from the bible this passage from Matthew.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
– Matthew 6:5-8
I was simply trying to point out how the video and the biblical passage did not line up, but I could tell how angry and hurt the head pastor was. He looked up and said, “Do you think I don’t know what the bible says about prayer?” I tried saying that I knew he did and wasn’t questioning him personally but he cut me off. “I know exactly what the bible says about prayer and yet I know this woman is right, sit back down, Matthew.”
I stood my ground and my aunt, also in the congregation that night, stood up for me. She said that until I had spoken up she had been in awe of the video but that I was right and that everything in the video was non-biblical. A couple of others agreed and said that while they too had been amazed by the video, they didn’t believe she was teaching something that Christ would approve of.
Angrily, the head pastor said, “If that’s how you folks want it, we’ll end the bible study now, we won’t speak of this again, but don’t be surprised when you need a miracle and god doesn’t grant it because of what has happened tonight!”
I was both hurt but also happy. I had stood my ground and won. I knew that god would bless me for standing on his word and not allowing my mind to be drawn away by greener looking pastures. I went to bed that night thinking that things might calm down. I figured I had been through the worst of it but little did I know how vindictive this man, the respected pastor that I loved, the one that had performed my wedding ceremony, could be.
To continue on to part 20, click here.