My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 5

For part 4 of the epilogue, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
-Oscar Wilde

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.

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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.

AnarchyI 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 weTexas 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.

FightingI 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.

Storm cloudsI 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?

autismI 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.


 

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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.”

 

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.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 20

For part 19 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

The next day, after the big blowup at the church, seemed like a relatively normal day. I awoke, went to work, came home and started doing some chores around the yard. My son brought the phone to me and I found it was the head pastor who had called. What he said would change my ministry entirely.

“Hello,” He said, “I just wanted to say how hurt I was last night during the service. Now I don’t want to worry you, but there are rumors that the district is going to strip you of your credentials. I don’t want that to happen and so the district has agreed that if you will get up next Sunday, apologize for the disturbance you caused, and say you were completely wrong, they will forget the whole thing.”

The only thing that I could say at the time was, “I’ll think about it.” He told me to think and pray about it, knowing that I would eventually do the right thing, the thing that god would want me to do. I hung up the phone realizing, that for the first time in my life, I was actually being blackmailed. I felt sick to my stomach, sad, hurt, and beaten down. How on earth would god allow something like this to be done to me after I had stood up for actual biblical teachings?

I don’t remember much from that week outside of the prepared statement I made. It wasn’t very long, about two paragraphs but had taken me almost the entire week to write. Every time I sat down to write it, emotion would overtake me and I that same sick feeling would hit. I knew that this was going to be something I would not be able to turn back from, and so just the thought brought waves of nausea and panic.

I arrived at church very early, the next Sunday, and spent a long time in prayer. This wasn’t something I wanted to say but I was being forced to say it. I had spent a good period of my life trying to become a minister and being threatened with the stripping of my credentials had hurt me more than you can possibly imagine. As the service started, the pastor came to me and asked if I had thought about what I was going to say. I told him that I had and was ready to give my statement.

I really don’t think I have ever been in a service that seemed to last as long as that one did. Every note during the song service seemed to last longer than the one that had come before it. The prayer requests seemed to go on for an eternity, and then the sermon seemed long and drawn out. I remember the message, the pastor gave, was on heeding authority and bowing before god. It was obvious to me that I was being told to tow the line and get back into my place before it was too late.

Finally, the sermon ended and the pastor said that I had a short statement to read before the church. I took the stage and gathered my thoughts. I looked out among the congregation of people who had become my friends. I saw the faces of my family in the congregation as well and knew how shocked they would be by my statement. Then I caught the face of the head pastor, smiling in the way one does when they know they’ve won.

I pulled my statement out from my bible and began to read. I will summarize the majority but here was the first couple of sentence. “I know that you know how much I love being a pastor here. So it saddens me to say that I am giving up my credentials with my denomination.” The church was absolutely silent apart from a few gasps that escaped the mouths of a couple congregants. As I said those words you could see the smile of victory fade from the head pastors face and replacing it was a look of fear and anger. “I have been told that my credentials would be stripped if I did not come here this morning and tell you folks a lie.I will not lie in order to please man.” I remember watching as the head pastor stood up, along with his wife, and walked out of the church.

I am not a bold person, but my point was made, I am not someone who can be blackmailed. The idea that my credentials were being used as a weapon against me had sickened me to the core and it was not something I could stand for. The rest of my statement went on to say that I would still be happy to fill in as a lay minister(A preacher who doesn’t hold credentials) and that I loved everyone in attendance.  I walked off the stage with the congregation in complete and total shock. I grabbed my stuff and I left.

Later that day, one of the deacons called me, he had been one of the people that had agreed with me during the fateful night that I had called out the non-biblical beliefs. He said that as soon as I had left the church board had met and decided that I could continue to preach as long as I felt willing. The also said that they would speak to the head pastor about what had happened and never again would that fraudulent woman’s faith healing be taught in our church.

As I hung up the phone, I don’t really know how to describe the feelings that overtook me. I had won, I was still going to be a minister at my local church, even without the credentials backing me. The joy would follow me to the next Sunday when I was handed the printout of ministry duties for the next month. The head pastor filled this out and when I looked at it I found that I was scheduled to preach only one Wednesday night bible study for the entire month, no Sunday morning or evening services. It was obvious, if he couldn’t force me to accept his dogma, he was going to try and force me out of the ministry one way or another.

The next couple of months went exactly like this and then the night of the church business meeting arrived. The first thing that was brought up was why I hadn’t been preaching as much as the other two ministers? A vote was taken and the church stripped the head pastor of his scheduling duties and gave it to my aunt. From that point on, I was back to my regular schedule.

After the initial statement was given before the church, the head pastors messages took a dark turn. He gave the same sermon nearly every Sunday that he preached, a message against those who dare to usurp authority and go against the will of god.  For the next couple of years, that was basically the only sermon he would deliver. He might switch the biblical passages up, but the message was clear, he was saying that I was an evil usurper and that I was hell-bound. Inwardly, I took a little pride every time he spoke out against me.

The next few years went by in a fairly normal fashion. Eventually the church told the head pastor that he had to stop beating me up every sermon and had to apologize before the church or he would not be allowed to preach there any more. The apology was lackluster but things did seem to improve for a bit after it was given. He started preaching less and less at the church which meant more services for me and the other minister.

Around this time I decided to go back to school. I had worked at the meat packing plant for nearly 5 years and it was killing me. Ministry wasn’t going to be something I could make a living on, the most I ever made was 50 dollars per sermon, and so I decided to go back to school and get a degree in accounting, actually it was history at first but I found accounting to be much more practical. Going back to school was scary but i found that I really enjoyed it. I was studying topics that broadened my mind and I loved it.

Life was seemingly getting better and while my mind was broadened in many aspects, my faith had never been stronger. I knew that god had protected me from the wrath of the head pastor and that I was doing his will. My sermons were still filled with fire and brimstone, sin and hellfire, a very dogmatic approach to the faith. I felt that if I just continued on this path I was on, that life would continue to get better. Things at home had seemed to calm, mostly due to the fact that my ex was having another affair, during which she would more or less leave me alone. I was happy and healthy and making a better life for myself and the kids.

I remember thinking at the time that nothing could shake my faith, I would learn very soon that not only could my faith be shaken but it could eventually leave me altogether…

To continue on to part 21 of my journey, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 11

For part 10 click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey click here.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'”                        – Luke 15:4-6

Finding out that I had a sister blew me away. It wasn’t so much that I had a sister, I had heard rumors in the past about a possible sister, it was the fact that both of my parents had lied to me about her existence when I had asked them about it in the past. My father had been in the armed forces and had impregnated my sister’s mother while they were a couple, they split up, my father met my mother and just 7 short months later, my father and mother conceived me. He didn’t realize she was pregnant when he left but I guess there had been correspondence that alluded to that fact many years in the past, when i was just an infant. My father at the time completely denied it, claiming that my sister’s mother was just a prostitute that he had hooked up with one night in the Philippines, he swore he had used protection and that there was no way that the child was his….this was all a lie…..one that my mother helped concoct. I was livid.

“My father at the time completely denied it, claiming that my sister’s mother was just a prostitute that he had hooked up with one night in the Philippines, he swore he had used protection and that there was no way that the child was his….this was all a lie…..one that my mother helped concoct. I was livid.”

I’ll never forget the look on my mothers face when she found that my sister had contacted us. It was a mix of rage, sadness, hatred, and a deep spite.  She told my father that we were to never speak of her again, which I objected to and said that if she were my sister then I wanted to meet her as soon as possible. The fight that ensued was not pretty and we each spent a lot of time not talking to one another over the next few days. One morning my father came into the living room and said he told my mother we would either have my sister come visit or he would seek a divorce. My mother consented and a few months later  we watched as the bus pulled into the stop in town. She would be staying with us for the next three months.

When my sister walked off the bus it was apparent that she was family. So much so that if you got me a wig, shaved my facial hair, and put me into a dress we would almost appear to be twins. I hit it off almost instantly with her, we talked about our pasts and both admitted our drinking issues and trouble with relationships. It was funny but at times it was like I was talking to myself in how similar our lives had paralleled one another. There was one thing about my sister though that drove me crazy, she was insanely religious, and still is to this day.

“….if you got me a wig, shaved my facial hair, and put me into a dress we would almost appear to be twins. “

When I say insanely religious I mean it, everything was about god and how he had done this, how he had done that. I told her I was an atheist and she laughed it off stating that her pastor said that no one is really an atheist and that god just hadn’t gotten a hold of me yet.  Sunday mornings drove me nuts, she would play religious songs while getting ready for church, the bland christian rock that seems to be produced by a machine instead of human composers. She would ask me several times each Sunday if i would go to church with her and each time I said no she would look hurt and act as if I had said something incredibly offensive.

One night I overheard her praying for god’s help in getting me to go to church and so I figured, why not give her some sense of accomplishment. She was only going to be there a few more weeks and I thought maybe she’ll quit on the religious talk if I go to one service. So the next time she asked if I would go to church with her on Sunday I said No, but I did agree to accompany the family to a Wednesday night bible study later in the week. My sister was thrilled and beamed with joy that morning. I remember thinking I’ll get this service out of the way and then that will be that….I was wrong.

The drive to church, that Wednesday night, seemed to last forever. I couldn’t wait to get the night over with and so each second went by as slow as molasses. We arrived at the church and I began having second thoughts, I stood outside the church for several minutes while I smoked a cigarette.  Breathing out a long heavy breath I started my way to the door, step by step I made my way closer, I reached out, turned the handle and walked through the door….then something happened.

I want to step away from the story for a moment and say exactly what I believe now happened. I walked through the door and was hit by a wave of nostalgia, which in turn released a good amount of dopamine and adrenaline. I had been so stressed a few minutes earlier that when the nostalgia hit I was put at ease. I had been through a lot in the past year and was at an incredibly vulnerable moment. The nostalgia was too great; the place smelled the same, looked the same, and the environment felt the same. It was like coming home after a long trip.  It was a good feeling and one that my mind would do strange things with over the next couple of hours.

At the time though it was as if I had been struck by a bolt of lightning,  I believed I felt god’s presence and I was sick of what I had become since I had left the church years earlier. I remember walking into the bible study and just sitting there not knowing what to do or say. The minister asked everyone to tell the church why they were there that night, when it got to me I said, because I need to go to church and I need to be saved. We prayed a prayer that night and truthfully I did feel different, it was an experience that would keep my doubts at bay for several years to come.

The next morning I awoke with a new energy, I thought I really had been saved. I talked with my sister and we began reading the bible together. I opened it and like magic this passage from Joel was the first thing I saw.

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

It was as if god was speaking directly to me. This was the call that I had failed to feel so many years earlier. It was clear to me that god wanted me to preach and I wouldn’t wait around to do it. I spent the next week and a half reading the bible voraciously.  It didn’t take me long to realize just how much I remembered, I could easily quote passages by memory and I knew that god really did want me in the ministry. I went to church the second Sunday since my conversion and told the congregation what god had told me. They all praised god and said that they were sure god would use me greatly. After the service I waited for the pastor to be alone and I approached him, i asked if there was anything that I could do for the church that might prepare me for a ministry, he thought for a minute and said that I could teach the Pre-teen Sunday school class if I wanted and if he saw that I could handle it the next Sunday. I was overjoyed, it was a small step but I was moving a bit closer to actually being the minister god had called me to be.

Looking back now I can’t believe how quickly things happened. I went from drinking, drugs, throwing up in a poor girls bathroom, nearly dying of sickness, finding out I had a sister, meeting my sister and then becoming a Sunday school teacher after just two weeks.  It seems crazy all that had gone on in just a few short years and all that still lay ahead of me in the years to come.

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I hope that I have been able to convey just how low I had gotten in life and how easy it was for religious faith to prey on me. I know now that there was absolutely nothing supernatural about the feelings I experienced when I walked through those doors that Wednesday night, it would all become apparent to me years later when I began having some doubts about the faith and doing some research. For now though we have reached the halfway point in the journey and I hope you will stick with me through the end. Thank you for reading!

To continue on to part 12 click here.