Branding an Adolescent Mind

April 26, 2008 at 12:19 pm 24 comments

Maybe you were one of those snobby rich kids that had everything they ever wanted growing up, or maybe you were the kid who saved up every dollar and bought your own pair of designer jeans twice a year and took exquisite care of them. I was neither. I had nice things but Levi’s were the extent of my brand loyalties. Aside from the trendy things we all focus on as teenagers, there are a myriad of other mundane everyday things in our adolescent lives that we use because they are available to us. Toothpaste, ketchup, shaving cream, etc.

When you leave home for the first time, whether for college, marriage, or the working world, you are suddenly faced with more choices than you ever thought possible. You take for granted all the common utilitarian things your parents provided for you. Do you remember the first time you went out to buy toothpaste for yourself? What do you get? Do you buy what your mom had always bought for you? Do you stretch your rebellious wings in protest and go for something new? As simple and foolish as it sounds, it is a microcosm of the process we go through into adulthood. How much do we cling to? How far do we run away?

I still remember vividly walking into my first dorm room at La Tech and finding a nicely packaged shoe-sized box on my bed. Inside were Edge shaving cream, Coast soap, Crest toothpaste and several other necessities and loads of marketing flyers and coupons. Thirteen years later I’m still using those same brands. I did not consciously choose to try something different. Had I wandered down to Wal-Mart after running out of whatever I brought from home, I very well may have bought Aquafresh toothpaste because I had used it all my life, but I was given the opportunity to consider an alternative.

My trips down to the food court and cafeteria in the student center were just as life-altering. They had Bullseye BBQ sauce and Log Cabin syrup. I never had that before, and I really liked them. We always used Kraft BBQ sauce and Blackburn syrup at home. I don’t know how many kids ask their parents to try a different BBQ sauce. You just use what you have, what you’re comfortable with. To this day I still buy those brand at the grocery store. It was a conscious minute rebellious stand on my part. “This is different. I am on my own.”

The religions we grow up with are not all that different than the foods and everyday items we are comfortable with from our childhood. We all know (and you may have been) one of teens who ran away from the church of your childhood as fast and hard as you could the moment you were out the door. I wasn’t. I went deeper. I changed schools, switched my major to religion, married my high school sweetheart, and began pastoring churches by my sophomore year in college.

[Can we take an aside for just a moment and address something here? Who the hell lets a 19 year old kid pastor a church? For crying out loud, I don’t care how mature or intelligent you are. It borders on child abuse. I know now that I was no where near mentally and emotionally mature enough to be in that situation. There is a lot to be said for the Methodist system that requires training, accountability, and assignment. This Baptist free-for-all independent streak can be detremental to the emotional well being of all concerned. Okay, just had to get that off my chest.]

It was later after several years of pastoral ministry, graduating college, and lots of life experiences that I began to move away from the comfortable religion of my childhood and seriously question the tenets and methods intensively. Once I stopped going to church every Sunday, it became easier to think clearly. While we may enjoy the fellowship and worship, there is an enormous amount of direct and indirect conditioning taking place. Whenever you remove yourself from that environment and begin to think independently, you may come up with different answers than those you were taught in Sunday School.

I don’t know which label is most appropriate to describe my theological quandry. It’s like trying to hit a moving target because I’m in a constant state of evolution. Maybe I’m a very liberal Christian, but there’s more that I disagree with in the church than I agree with, so it seems disingenuous to consider myself a Christian. I personally feel somewhere in the middle of agnosticism and atheism. My simple understanding of those terms is that one says we can’t know whether or not God is and the other says he is not.

I don’t really know whether God exists or not. If there is a God, he cannot possibly be anything like the Judeo-Christian version we’ve all been brought up to believe in. I’m much more inclined to believe in a unifying field or consciousness than a divine deity. Science and theoretical physics have given me answers to who we are, how we came to be, and what we’re doing here more than any sermon I’ve ever heard. It’s not really important to me which label fits me best, but I’ve felt more and more pressure to have a “coming out.”

I have no desire to diminish the faith of others or make a spectacle of myself. I just don’t believe the same way anymore. There are reasons why I turn down invitations to preach, why I don’t read the Bible the same way as others expect me to, why I don’t care about going to church, etc. I think it’s only a matter of time before family members, friends, or peers force the issue. I’d rather avoid the shock waves and the fallout, because I know that people get angry, they get hurt, they feel the need to put your name on the prayer list. I’m not interested. I may be called an atheist, an agnostic, or a liberal, but I’m happiest just being me. In fact I’m happier being me than I have ever been in my entire life, and for the first time in my entire life I chose to be me.

- Lyndon

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The thrill of discovery Analogy of a Marriage

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. the chaplain  |  April 26, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Good post. I like both your main argument and your aside. With regard to the latter, you’re absolutely right: who the hell lets a 19-year-old pastor a church. And do the parishioners really take a 19-year-old seriously?

    I love the way you ended the post: “I may be called an atheist, an agnostic, or a liberal, but I’m happiest just being me. In fact I’m happier being me than I have ever been in my entire life, and for the first time in my entire life I chose to be me.”

    The only label you need is the one you’ve always carried: You!

  • 2. karen  |  April 26, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Once I stopped going to church every Sunday, it became easier to think clearly. While we may enjoy the fellowship and worship, there is an enormous amount of direct and indirect conditioning taking place. Whenever you remove yourself from that environment and begin to think independently, you may come up with different answers than those you were taught in Sunday School.

    This is a great point, and so true! There’s a lot of guilt involved in stopping church attendance, but it also frees up time for conditioning-free reflection and lends a new perspective on the larger issues. Knowing now how quickly the conditioning fades gives me a better understanding for why regular church attendance is so heavily stressed in religion – that and the need for monetary support.

    I personally feel somewhere in the middle of agnosticism and atheism. My simple understanding of those terms is that one says we can’t know whether or not God is and the other says he is not.

    The definitions are confusing at best and near-universally misunderstood at worst. Agnosticism basically says you don’t know if there’s a god, or that god’s existence is unknowable. Atheism comes in two flavors: “strong” atheists declare there is no god. “Weak” atheists (also called “agnostic atheists”) hold no belief in god without further evidence, but refrain from declaring god non-existent.

    I think you’ll find most atheists, even militant atheists, are agnostic atheists. They believe there’s little probability that god or gods exist, but they recognize they don’t know enough about the universe to confidently assert that he does not exist.

  • 3. Gary  |  April 26, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you for a great and inspiring post. It’s only when you’ve been out of the church for a while that you realize just how much the conditioning has affected you! I’ve grown exponentially in my understanding of the world since leaving the church. Christianity suffers from a very static position, given the status of the canons and creeds, and when freed from the box you suddenly realize how very little you actually know, when you thought you knew everything.

  • 4. Jersey  |  April 26, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    I’m like you…I do not believe in what the rest of those I know believe in, and sometimes it feels like eventually I’ll have to come out of the closet about my true beliefs. I just find that religion, like sexual orientation perhaps, is a part of us, but it should not be the part that we define ourselves as.

  • 5. Matt  |  April 28, 2008 at 7:12 am

    I very much agree with the idea that the more immersed you are in something the harder it is to objectively evaluate it.

    I now look back and can see an interesting/sick cycle I developed when I was more religious. I was lead to believe that I should feel guilt or shame for my failings, but also encouraged to devote myself more to this religion to find joy and freedom from this guilt which was caused by the same. Some may say I was practicing the religion incorrectly, but I was earnestly trying to follow it in the best ways I knew.

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

  • 6. Andrea  |  April 28, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I’m anti-label in all my actions, and you’d think my family would give up trying to label me by now. My mother recently tried to label me “Atheist”, but I don’t belive anyone can prove god doesn’t exist. Then, of course, are the people who tell me I “can’t be bisexual” because I’m married (and monogamous). Is that reverse labeling? Either way, I don’t like it. I’m tired of people hiding behind labels as a way of avoiding contemplation of reality.

  • 7. LeoPardus  |  April 28, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Andrea:

    Can we just hang a label on you that says “Anti-label” then? :D

  • 8. Hugo  |  April 28, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    “Agnostic” can be considered an epistemological position, meaning you could actually be an agnostic and a Christian at the same time.

    With regards to church attendance, my favourite church is a church arguably a part of the “emerging church conversation”. They had a sermon the other day about how it is good to sometimes abstain from church! Viva. A good church should point that kind of thing out.

    And yea, I also label myself as someone that rejects *all* labels. ’nuff said. ;)

  • 9. Dre  |  April 29, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    It seems many aspects of your argument are merely religious and you just dislike the infrastructure of the church in general and how things are run. There’s ALOT of brothers and sisters who go that route.

    Here is my question for you. Are you still a believer of God? And if so, are you still in a relationship with Him? Because that’s basically all you need. That and to share His Word through your testimony. Don’t lose the path towards salvation just because of a problem in childhood. Remember who your Savior is and follow Him. He’ll remember that when it comes to judgment time. God bless you.

  • 10. Cthulhu  |  April 29, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    I may be called an atheist, an agnostic, or a liberal, but I’m happiest just being me. In fact I’m happier being me than I have ever been in my entire life, and for the first time in my entire life I chose to be me.

    Well said – after a lot of reading and thought I finally decided the best label for my beliefs is Michael Shermers description…agnostic non-theist. Agnostic because I cannot scientifically prove or disprove the existence of ‘god’, but I personally do not believe in any supernatural being. But I really like what you said about ‘just being me’ – that is a great place to be!

  • 11. Lyndon  |  April 29, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Dre, I appreciate your comments and trust they are from the best of intentions. However, I did not stop believing in Santa Claus because I didn’t like Christmas. There comes a point in your life when you must decide, do you knowingly believe a lie simply because it makes you feel good? I would like the world to be as simple as we were told, but it’s not. The questions that we face in life are bigger than the answers of our childhood.

    I do not know if I am a “believer of God” or not. I suspect the ambiguity alone condemns me to “judgement.” I cannot bring myself to “share His Word,” when I know there is another way. The ends do not justify the means. The ends of much of what I’ve seen in Christiantiy has been “mean.”

    In What the Bleep Do We Know!? Micael Ledwith said:

    The single greatest obstacle to our evolution is the way our culture often views God – as a God sitting up somewhere “registering the scores on his laptop as to whether we perform according to his designs or whether we’re offending him, as it’s put, an absolutely outrageous idea. How could we offend God? How could it matter so much to him? How could it, above all, matter that he would find it so serious a situation that he could conform us to an eternity of suffering? These are bizarre ideas.And they are bizarre ideas: that in this vast universe, where there are more galaxies than grains of sand in all the oceans, that in that vastness, a group of people – well, men actually – on a small planet got the exclusive franchise for the pearly gate arches of heaven. And every other being in the universe will spend an eternity of suffering in hell. It’s hard to imagine a more bizarre idea. And if that’s the sort of God you believe in, you just have to wonder: How does that affect your view of the world?

    If the God you talk about should resign me to an eternity in hell for asking questions… for trying to understand who we are and discover some values that transcend the foolishness of religion, politics, and economy, then I believe he is not loving nor worth loving at all.

  • 12. LeoPardus  |  April 29, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Re post 9 by Dre:

    Another drive by doesn’t bother to find out who we are, and out of ignorance graces us with his/her “answers”.

    Sometimes I’m tempted to cast off my policy of not following these people to their own sites. Wonder how they’d like me pooping ignorance, preconceived bigotry, and canned “answers” all over their place?

  • 13. paralleldivergence  |  April 29, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Great post. Here’s an article that takes the discussion a little further:

    http://paralleldivergence.com/2006/11/04/which-is-stronger-manfluence-or-godfluence/

    Love your “de-conversion wager” – forget Pascal!

  • 14. secondlady  |  April 29, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Religion to me is to connect with God not with organization. It is serving God and enjoying the company of people that enabe us to attend church services. Shaping of moral perspectives comes second.

  • 15. Andrea  |  April 30, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Hmm, maybe I should get an “anti-label” sign, for kicks.

  • 16. Non Sicuro  |  May 2, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Facsinating post. I was raised going to church, but practically speaking, my family was quite agnostic (though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time). When I went to college, I dumped Christianity completely for a while, but eventually jumped in whole hog…becoming super-Christian, far more conservative and kooky than my parents ever dreamed one of their kids could be.

    After ten years of being radically “different” in my family through my particular version of Christianity, I have de-converted. I have adopted the agnosticism of my father, who no longer even poses as a Christian by attending Church.

  • 17. Ted Goas  |  May 5, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    I’d rather avoid the shock waves and the fallout, because I know that people get angry, they get hurt, they feel the need to put your name on the prayer list.

    Interesting how you put it like this. Clearly show how divisive religion can be. If you let people down by not agreeing with their fantasy beliefs?

    Do any of them understand WHY you are the happiest in life right now? Or are they just disappointed you’re not on the ‘winning team’ anymore?

  • 18. Lyndon  |  May 5, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Ted, I should bracket my comments with the fact that I live in the second notch on the Bible belt in North Louisiana. While pastoring I discovered that even many of the devout Christians had a faith based largely on assumption and superstition. Most people do not read the Bible for what it actually says but rather for what they want it to say, in particular to support fundmentalist religious beliefs. Even among those who do not go to church, there is a foundational belief/assumption that God is real and the ultimate judge of your eternal soul.

    While it is perfectly acceptable to voice your complaints about the local church around here, it is contemptible in this culture to suggest that there is no God or that the Bible is not “the innerant Word of God.” It’s not just considered blasphemous. It is down right un-American in the South.

    For those reasons, it’s just easier not to speak of such thoughts in polite company.

  • 19. John  |  May 8, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Man, you knew just how to explain the situation that i’m in. I went to church when i was really young, due to my extremely christian mother, but my mind works like my father’s. We think very logical and i refused to believe in something with little to no basis. I began classifying myself somewhere between atheist and agnostic when people asked about a year after i left the church. My mom, ironically believed it was close minded of me. Although, i speak to anyone willing to try to convert me but i have never heard anything that really made me wonder about the truthfullness of their beliefs. The one line that i really couldn’t answer was, “despite from the big bang and any of those scientific beliefs, where did all that matter come from?” My only answer i could give to that christian crusader was, “Who are you to say that it all began from a superior being or entity, for some reason, deciding this should be and made it happen?” By the way, anyone who just read this should know, i’m only 15. I’m still discovering my own mind and i am yet to decide my thinking when it will really reach the end that we all wonder so much about. I too, found happiness and comfortability in truly believing what my mind tells me with the information i’ve been given.

  • […] a 15 year old also struggling with matters of faith and reason, who recently commented on my post “Branding an Adolescent Mind” at de-conversion.com: Although, i speak to anyone willing to try to convert me but i have never […]

  • 21. Lyndon  |  May 8, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Jon, thanks for your comments. It’s good that you haven’t made your mind up yet. I hope you never do. Keep it open and enjoy the possibility of what could be. I thought it was time I put down some of my thoughts on the subject of where it all came from on my own blog. Best wishes on your journey!

    “Where did all this stuff come from?” on Words Less Spoken

  • 22. Thom  |  May 24, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    When I went away to college I immediately started experimenting with brands. I pretended that I had never used or heard of any of the brands available (as if I had come from a different country where different brands are sold) and experimented with brands I liked. Some were the same as those my parents had chosen. I use Old Spice aftershave (my late father’s brand) because it represents to me the innovative experimental forward-thinking attitude of American 1960s culture that I admire. Most are different. I use Barbasol shaving cream (not my late father’s brand) because it’s cheap, it works, and it’s not tested on animals.
    After a period of being a strong Christian (but also very quiet, very much the self-loathing Calvinist) and having difficulty reconciling the new testament with it’s foundation in the old testament (and for some time seriously thinking of throwing it away and becoming Jewish), I decided to look at the holy texts of every religion that I could find as if I hadn’t seen it before, try to verify their claims and find out which one is based in fact (namely, historical fact, because anything else could be reasoned away).
    Which lead me to agnosticism, and eventually atheism.

  • […] a 15 year old also struggling with matters of faith and reason, who commented on my previous post “Branding an Adolescent Mind”: Although, i speak to anyone willing to try to convert me but i have never heard anything that […]

  • 24. Samanthamj  |  June 22, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Great post… and thread. Very interesting – and of course I can relate to so much of it since I was brought up VERY religious by my mother… but, wound up feeling more like my atheist father in the end.

    Leo – your post #12 cracked me up. Let me know if you do it… LOL

    ~smj

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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