Bad Theism · Inoculation Against Indoctrination

Bad Theism: Melodramatic BS

DISCLAIMER

Suicidal thoughts are a serious issue and should be dealt with by the help of a psychiatrist and most likely medication. Let me just say that anyone who is actually considering this should seek help, and I do not want anyone to think I am making light of a bad situation. People who have followed this blog will know that my struggles with faith began with the suicide of my cousin. Please, if you are suicidal, seek help. Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Good Evening Heathens and Hell-Bound friends and foes alike. First off I would like to thank Genetically Modified Skeptic for providing me with the idea for tonight’s article. If you haven’t checked him out, please do so and definitely subscribe to his channel. Also, if you’d like to read the last article in this series, click here: Bad Theism: Angels

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So tonight I want to talk a little bit about melodramatic bullshit. We’ve all seen this argument from time to time,

“If god didn’t exist there would be no reason to go on.”

It’s another one of those platitudes that theists love to use as an excuse for their continued belief, even in the face of mounting evidence against their claims. Well, tonight I’d like to tell you it’s absolute bullshit and if it’s true then these people already need psychological help.

Another great example comes in the form of a comment, posted on this brilliant video created by Genetically Modified Skeptic.

The video is obviously meant to be satire and just to have some fun with some of the arguments that apologists use in support of their claims. However, take a look at this comment.

Melodrama

picard gifI’m not even going to touch on points 1-3….ok maybe a little…I’m a glutton for punishment.

Point 1: Can you name one prophecy or miracle that is supported by actual verifiable evidence? Has any of your evidence been verified by the scientific method?

Point 2: According to your scriptures, is Satan able to create anything? If Satan cannot create anything then how could he create the concept of evil? Who created Satan?

Point 3: An Appeal to Authority doesn’t necessarily negate the argument given but only if the authority that you are appealing to has proven the point in a satisfactory nature, meaning provided verifiable evidence to back up the claim that you are attempting to defend. Since god has not even proven himself to exist with verifiable evidence, any appeal to his/or her authority can be automatically dismissed in an argument.

Now that we have that out-of-the-way, what I really want to talk about is the comments 4th point.

shrugged

He’d kill himself?

All I did was quit the ministry and start blogging, perhaps I was doing it wrong???

Truth is, I really don’t think he would kill himself, and if you really want to know, I think he’s already on his way to becoming an atheist. I’ll let you in on why I believe that later.

When I was in high school I was in an incredibly abusive relationship. I didn’t have a lot of confidence at the time and so I put up with it. The main reasoning for this was that it was better than not being in a relationship, at least by high school standards.  However, I could only put up with it for so long, and when I finally broke off the relationship, my ex said that she was going to kill herself. She did not and is still living today.

When I told my ex-wife that I was leaving, she told me that she would kill herself. Going so far as to shave her head and get herself committed. Once again, she is still alive and thankfully far away from me.

Here is what happens when the very religious begin to doubt the existence of god.

  1. You try to up your faith, praying more, fasting more, reading the bible more.
  2. These efforts fail.
  3. You get depressed.
  4. You get mad
  5. You either leave the faith or find some way to delude yourself even further.

That’s it…

Now I’m not saying there has never been someone who committed suicide after losing their faith. Depression can cause even the best of us to question the value of life, I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life. However I’m still here.

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Theists like to promote the idea that without god there would be no purpose to this life, but life is filled with a plethora of things to bring us purpose. I have numerous friends who are atheist and they all find ways to give purpose to their lives. Some are YouTubers, others are photographers, some are foodies, artists, musicians, sculptors, writers, podcasters. Many atheists are highly charitable and find ways to help others, giving back to their community and making the world a better place. They all live life with purpose and I would say that the majority of them are pretty content with their lives.

My cousin committed suicide just a week after he got saved in my church. God did not grant him purpose, he wasn’t filled with a blissful spirit that led him to embrace life. He took a shotgun, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.  Purpose is not found in god it is found within ourselves, in what we choose to spend our time and energy on.

Morality

Theists also like to claim that without god, we would all live in a chaotic world where murder, rape, and Justin Bieber dance parties would be the norm. I think Hitchens puts it best in the following video.

The idea that we can only have morality with god is preposterous.  I would lay claim that I am much more moral, now, since I left the faith than I was when I was a still a minister and a believer. You want to know why I say this? It’s actually quite simple.

When I was a believer and I did something wrong, I would pray for gods forgiveness and then feel better. I no longer have that security blanket to make me feel better about the mistakes that I make. Instead, I simply try to not do anything that I should feel bad about later.  If I do something that hurts another person, I don’t ask god to forgive me, I seek out the person and tell them how sorry I am for having hurt them.

Atheist in the Making

Lastly, do you remember when I said that I believe the author of the comment is already on the way towards atheism?

Church

Well here is the case that I’d like to submit.

When I began to have my doubts I started acting even more religious. I fasted more, I prayed more, I read the Bible more, and I made idiotic comments online arguing for my faith. I was the worst of the worst when it comes to bad internet apologist trolls. I used every bad argument that you can think of in an effort to feel as if I was doing something good for god and that he would reward me by strengthening my faith.

I don’t think that I was unique in this aspect.

I honestly believe that a lot of people are like I was not so many years ago. Their faith has been waning for some time and so they are desperately doing anything they can in an effort to restore their faith. They sink deeper into their delusions and try their best to rationalize their faith in the most absurd of ways. They say that atheists have no purpose, no morality, and that without god they would kill themselves.

I know this, because I said this. When I was a theist I remember clearly saying that if I found out that there was no god, I would kill myself. I’d have no reason to live, no purpose, and I would choose to end it all. Life is a struggle and why would I put myself through this struggle if I didn’t know that I was on my way to heaven?

I’m still here.

My purpose is still to help others. I was a minister not because god called me but because I earnestly wanted to help people. I love causing people to laugh, making people think, and being able to be there when I am needed. Learning is my passion, I read voraciously and absolutely love a good documentary on just about any subject. I love my family and want to see my children grow up and have kids of their own. I want to grow old with my wife and enjoy her company for as long as possible.

My purpose is what I say it is, and that’s why I’m still here.

Satanic Sundays

Satanic Sunday #4: Dungeons and Dragons

To read last weeks Satanic Sunday post, click here.

If there was one thing that was considered the ultimate in satanic practices during the 1980’s, it would be cat sacrifice, the second would be Dungeons and Dragons. This benign role-playing game was blamed for all of the evils of society at one point or another. The main issue with the game was that it would change your children from the fine, upstanding, christian kids they were into evil, hate filled warlocks and witches in a single session. That’s only one point that was made though, allow me to explain some of the other stuff here now.

Dungeons and Dragons Creates Witches and Warlocks

Mage.jpgFirst and foremost, as mentioned above was the belief that anyone engaged in this game would be instantly converted into Satan’s ministry, taking the role of a witch or a warlock.  Parents who never took the time to read anything about the game believed that you were actually learning spells that could be used in day-to-day life. If that were the case I would cast a firewall spell anytime I see someone who I don’t want to talk to on the street. This stems from a couple of places, one Christians believe in magic, both good and bad, and secondly they believe Satan likes to use magic to lure kids, like a creepy dude in a van might use candy.  Never once have I ever played D&D while thinking, boy this spell of revelation sure would help me find my keys….or maybe I have…I’m a nerd.

Dungeons and Dragons Will Make Your Kids Commit Suicide

This was based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence of a single parent, whose child had committed suicide and had happened to be a D&D player. The media picked up on this and produced a 60 Minutes special based entirely on this anecdotal evidence.

This belief expanded to the point that in many Christian churches it was taught that there were groups of D&D players who would commit suicide or murder a player who died within the game. I had numerous friends who played the game at the time and found this hysteria to be rather silly, not having a single friend who had ever committed suicide or been killed for dying in the game.

Dungeons and Dragons Will Turn Your Sons Gay

Unicorn.jpgSo freedom in character selection and creation is a big deal with Dungeons and Dragons. You can play as a Barbarian, a mage, a rogue, an ogre, a gnome, etc…you can also play as a member of the opposite sex. This caused huge uproar in the christian community, finding out that some of their children might be fantasizing about being a member of the opposite sex. This was Satan’s way of turning all of our children into homosexuals!

In reality, the ability to play as the opposite sex generally just turns into a laugh fest with a bunch of immature teenagers acting out the silliest of activities. “I hit the skeleton with muh boobs” kind of stuff.  Now I’m not saying that some kids, who are already gay or trans-gendered, don’t express those feelings through the safety of the game, which I think is healthy for them to do, but the idea that dungeons and dragons was creating an army of homosexuals was by far one of the most ridiculous things I ever heard…except for the next item.

Dungeons and Dragons Will Give Your Kids AIDS

AidsThis goes hand in hand with the item above. Since Dungeons and Dragons was supposedly turning your children gay, and at the time AIDS was considered a gay disease, it was only a matter of time before someone made the above claim. I was even told that AIDS was a curse caused by using the magic within the game, that god curses those who practice magic with homosexuality and AIDS. So there you have it, eliminate Dungeons and Dragons and then imagine the amount of money our government can save on AIDS medication. This item should show just how far grasping people in this community go to explain matters of science through the magical powers of their deity, it’s bad for you…

The Truth About Dungeons and Dragons

FuelTruthfully, these things really did worry me as a child and I didn’t play the game until I was much older. When I did begin playing, I found a fun environment, a great use of my imagination, and way more laughs than you could ever imagine. Dungeons and Dragons allows those who maybe have issues with self-esteem and confidence, though not always the case, to experience what it is like to be a hero, to be a powerful person, to escape the bullshit of everyday life for a few hours with friends who won’t judge them for who they are. The biggest issue with dungeons and dragons might be the sugar you consume due to the large amounts of Mountain Dew I have drunk during my time playing the game or the hours of sleep I have lost due to long sessions lasting well into the night. Dungeons and Dragons is a fun game that many people enjoy, it is no more harmful that Fantasy Football and can be a great escape from the hardships that life might throw at you from time to time.

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.

cane.png

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.

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 21

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

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

My faith was strong. I spent long periods of time in prayer nearly every day. I communicated with god daily as well as spent much time reading my bible each day. I say this because the following blog posts will show how one might lose their faith and I get tired of hearing people say, “You didn’t lose your faith, you never had real faith.” If all that I did during my ministry can’t be called real faith, then no one actually has faith. There isn’t a single person on earth who could be considered faithful if my own journey is negated as fake faith. I preached the gospel for years and not a single person would have questioned my faith then, yet now it is one of the major arguments that I hear almost daily.


Thanksgiving Day, 2013, began like any other Thanksgiving has, I awoke ready to eat Turkey and stuffing. This year was going to be a bit special because not only was I going to be at my grandmothers house, as I am every year, but my grandmother had invited her two living sisters and all of their family. Normally I don’t do well with crowds but the idea of having that many of my family all together was a joyous celebration. Not too many years before there had been a huge wedge between my grandmother and her sisters due to the circumstances surrounding my great grandmother’s death. One sister had basically been left everything in the will and this had caused a major split in the family.

Luckily though, over the last couple years, that gap had been filled and we were enjoying being one big happy family again. I arrived at my grandmother’s house and was filled with the warm and delicious smells of home cooked thanksgiving dinner. There were three turkeys, two huge bowls of mashed potatoes, a humongous tray of stuffing and all the rest of the fixings for an amazing meal.  We sat around chatting and waiting for the eventual time that dinner would be ready and we could all stuff ourselves sick.

We were getting ready to eat when my great aunt realized that one of her grandsons was not in attendance. She called him on the phone and he told her that he wasn’t feeling well and that he hoped we all had a great time. She told him that we all hoped that he felt better and if he did he was more than welcome to show up late and grab a plate of food, if he didn’t she promised to make him a plate and take it to him later that night.

“…he wasn’t feeling well and that he hoped we all had a great time.”

My cousin had recently begun coming to the church that I ministered at and the Sunday prior to that Thanksgiving he had been saved during one of my services. It was an absolutely joyous event because this was my closest cousin, only a month younger than me, and we had lived fairly parallel lives. Both raised in the Pentecostal church, both fell away during our teens, both of us struggled with early marriages that fell apart, and both of us had also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in our early twenties, my cousin though had only broken that spell a few short weeks before Thanksgiving, at least that is what we had all thought. I cannot count the amount of times my great aunt had requested prayer for god to touch his life like he had mine, and bring him back to the church like I had done. So his getting saved was a miraculous event in our family.

“I went home that night thinking how blessed we all were to be together again and how nothing could possibly ruin the memory of that day.”

The dinner went off without a hitch, everything was fantastic. I had two huge plates of food and later that day returned for another huge plate of food. There was so much that we all took home enough food that no one would need to cook for the next couple of days. The day was perfect, it was one of those rare occasions in life that I could truly say that I was blissful. I went home that night thinking how blessed we all were to be together again and how nothing could possibly ruin the memory of that day.  As I laid down to go to sleep, happiness filled my heart, and I couldn’t wait to get to church the next Sunday to tell everyone what an amazing day it had been. As soon as I started to drift off to sleep, the phone rang.

The voice on the other end of the phone was my father, I could instantly tell that something was wrong. My father almost never cries and I could hear the quiver in his voice as he began to talk. “This is your dad, “*your cousin” took a shotgun and shot himself tonight, he’s been rushed to the hospital but he isn’t going to make it.” I don’t know if I finished the call or not, all I remember was being on my knees begging god to save my cousins life. How on earth could this be happening? Hadn’t god just saved him? Shouldn’t he be filled with the light of god and incapable of such an act?

How on earth could this be happening? Hadn’t god just saved him? Shouldn’t he be filled with the light of god and incapable of such an act?

I fell asleep that night on my knees. Awakening in a lot of pain I realized that as the minister and family member of a large portion of my church, it was my job to call and inform everyone on what had happened. First though I made the trip to my great aunts house to check in on her. She was in shambles, my cousin had a daughter who was just around 7 or 8 at the time and all she kept saying was, “my daddy shot himself last night.” I tried my best to comfort my aunt before heading back home and picking up the phone. Every call was excruciating and between each call I would bawl profusely. A minister must be strong in a time like this but I was destroyed. Finally all the calls had been made and I let myself completely release all the grief that I felt. I went to bed that night with a horrible headache and all the questions I had asked myself still unanswered.

Sunday was coming up and it was my turn to preach. I knew my message had to be one of comfort to my family, who would all be hurting as well as uplifting to everyone affected by my cousins suicide. I prepared a sermon that was in reality, one part sermon, and one part eulogy. It wasn’t a very good message but all that I could come up with in my current state.

I remember sitting outside the church, in my car, for much longer than normal. I didn’t want to go inside, I didn’t want to be the one that people looked towards for comfort and stability. I knew it was going to be the hardest sermon I had ever delivered and I was not ready to give it. Finally, I got out of my vehicle and I walked inside.

When a tragedy occurs in a church it is often the thing on everyone’s lips the next Sunday and this tragedy was no different. People were coming up to me and offering condolences which I greatly appreciated. I comforted some family as best as I could but something took everything out of me. An older woman in the church came up to me and said how sorry she was after hearing that my cousin has committed suicide, she then went on to say how sad it was that he was now in hell for having committed the act. I began to hear others speaking the same thing throughout the church and my mind began to swim in grief and anger. In reality the comment shouldn’t have affected me as much as it did, it was well known that suicide was considered a sin that instantly sent the person to hell. They took their life and destroyed the temple that god had given them, it was unpardonable and I had even spoken on the subject in years past. This time though something snapped in my brain and as I took my seat all thoughts of the sermon I had prepared went out the window.

I don’t remember the songs that were sang, I don’t remember the prayers that were requested, I don’t remember walking to the stage but I do remember the first words that came out of my mouth.

“If god sends tortured souls like my cousin to hell, then he isn’t a good god and he isn’t a god that I could worship.”

The rest of my sermon is a complete blur. I’m told I gave a touching message on how the bible does not teach that suicide is unpardonable and that even a suicide can receive redemption and salvation. It is as if my body went into autopilot and my mind continued to swirl around the question, “Is god good?”

This was the very beginning of my doubts, but it definitely would not be the end of them.

To continue on to part 22, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 17

For part 16 of my journey, click here.
To begin at the start of my journey, click here.

“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Psalm 85:6

                 The first couple of years of my ministry went by fairly well, our church grew from about 20 regular members to near 50 in a matter of months. That might not seem like much but in a church that hadn’t experienced real growth in over 20 years, it was incredible. I had a very excited group of kids in my youth group and we did various things to help the community. One month we ran a food drive and another month we walked the city cleaning up the roads. My style of teaching was meant to encourage community outreach and for a short period of time that’s exactly what we did.

At around the one year mark, I spoke with the other pastors and asked when we might hold a revival. Their main concern was whether or not anyone would actually show up, and if the church would be willing to put it on. I assured them that I felt willed by god to hold a revival and so one Sunday, I spoke in front of the church and asked if they were ready for revival. The whole church cheered. I then asked if they would be willing to allow us to put it on and about half of the cheers went out like a light. Luckily, for me, enough members of the church agreed that we were able to hold the revival about a month later.

“The whole church cheered. I then asked if they would be willing and about half of the cheers went out like a light.”

Revivals can be tough. For one, you have to decide whether you will hold a revival that lasts a specific number of days, or “allow god” to dictate how long your revival should be. We went with putting the decision-making in god’s hands. Secondly, you have to line up who is going to speak and on what days. You would think a church with three ministers would have no problem with scheduling, but since we each also had a secular job, it took some doing to work out something that would fit everyone’s schedule.

We decided that the revival should start on a Saturday and go on from there.  My first preaching would be the next day on Sunday, in which I was given both morning and evening services. My duty Saturday was to lead the song service, ask if anyone had any prayer requests, and pray over the offering. Revival services are generally very fast paced events until the prayer service and so choosing the right music is crucial. If anything can be said, it is that I took this job very seriously and did a fine job, if I do say so myself.

The first night of the revival went extremely well. There were close to 80 people in attendance and they were all very energetic and excited to be there. The pastor who had married me spoke that night and did an amazing job.  This man is short, stocky, and speaks with a tinny slightly southern accent, but when he preached it seemed at times that he was ten feet tall and his voice boomed through the church. His sermon was filled with imagery of hell-fire and sin, he would speak often about his smoking and drinking addictions that god cured him of, and the audience would be nearly sobbing by the time he finished his testimony. (A couple of years later I would learn that he had swapped smoking for chewing tobacco which took away some of the miraculous nature of the cure.) By the end of the night I was nervous, it had gone very well, too well. I feared that I could never have such a reaction as he had, so I went to sleep that night with a deep anxiety that would follow me until I got behind the pulpit the next morning.

“I was nervous, it had gone very well, too well.”

It still amazes me that when I got behind the pulpit, my entire character changed. I am a very timid, quiet, peaceful person, and I absolutely hate talking to people. Small talk and chit-chat are not my forte and so you might think i would make an awful minister, this was not the case. When I got behind a pulpit I was filled with courage, I had a strength in my voice that is not normally there, and I could talk for over an hour without the slightest hint that anyone in the congregation had lost interest; at least for the most part.

That morning we had close to 100 people in attendance, the small church looked incredibly crowded. I sat in the back and prayed until I heard the song service begin, then I took my seat at the back of the church. The song service ended and I took the stage. I began shaking and dancing and broke forth with tongues. I began preaching my sermon, a cliché sermon on those left behind after the rapture, the torments they will face and the hardships they could have avoided simply by asking Christ into their lives before it was too late. I preached for well over an hour and by the time I finished the congregation was mostly in tears or deep prayer. My aunt stepped forward and requested prayer, I prayed over her and the next day she came back to services and said she had been healed of a lump in her breast.  I dismissed on that same high feeling that I described in an earlier post.

“…..she came back to services and said she had been healed of a lump in her breast.”

My favorite service during this revival was a night we had promoted as “Tag Team Preaching Night.” During this service all three ministers took the stage.  We would start on a particular passage and in the middle of speaking would hold out our hand to one of the other ministers and tag them in, they would then speak on the same passage and go for a while before tagging out, and so on and so on. It was an incredibly exciting service, never quite knowing when I would be called to jump in and start preaching. I still look back at this memory fondly, if that makes any sense for an atheist.

Services continued in this fashion for nearly a week when we were struck with some devastating news. A suicide had occurred in the head pastors family and he wouldn’t be able to preach any further nights. The female pastor would be preaching that night and I wasn’t scheduled again for another two days. We discussed what out plans were and decided that neither of us could take the other pastors night and so after she finished preaching that night, we let everyone know that the revival had come to an end. It was such a sad night for me, I knew that god had wanted us to have a revival that lasted weeks and it was ending after one, had I been wrong, had the other ministers been wrong to end the revival, had god been wrong?

Little did I know but this would revival would mark the highest point of my ministry. We would have a couple of short, two or three-day revivals in the future but nothing would ever compare to this first one.  I would soon learn the politics of the ministry, how the church IS a business and how my faith wasn’t quite as strong as I believed it was. It would still be several years before any of this would add up to my leaving the faith, but the ball of me losing my faith may have begun with the incredibly high elevation that this revival left me upon.

To continue on to part 18, click here.