From Tormented Soul to Freed Atheist – Part 1

November 12, 2008 at 12:01 am 40 comments

My de-conversion story is one that will probably leave many of you appalled and shocked at just what religion can do to someone. My story is not simple – it is extremely involved, intense, and complicated. As such, this small (hopefully only 3-part) series will relate my detailed journey from fundamentalist, six-day literal, biblical inerrancy believing, calvinistic, highly spiritual Christian to atheist. I will cover my reasoning, my spiritual experiences, and my the internal hellish torment that my faith gave me. The first part will cover my childhood, the second will cover my teenage years, and the final portion will cover my recent de-conversion at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago at the age of 23.

[Please forgive me for the length. I want to make it as clear as possible that I was as deeply into the faith as one can imagine, because most accusations made against de-converts have to do with the fact that we were never a "true" Christian. Well, if I was not a "true" Christian, then I cannot imagine what one is!]

As a child I never knew anything but Protestant Christianity. My parents were not forceful in their beliefs, but it was certainly obvious they took them seriously. My dad was born into a pastor’s family, and my mother grew up in the same church as my father. Both of their immediate families were extremely devoted Christians.

I was extremely intelligent for my age as a young child around the age of 7-10. I can remember some of the things I pulled off and the arguments I concocted and even now I wonder how I came up with that stuff. For example, I can remember basically explaining the problem of Zeno’s paradox to one of my dad’s bicycle shop employees who was in college at the time. I must have only been ten, but it occurred to me that when molecules travel from point A to point B they must travel an infinite set of possible locations in order to reach their new location. How do they ever arrive?

My parents knew from the beginning that it was important to raise their children in the faith. I commend them for this, only because it was the best they knew how at the time. This devotion to the faith eventually lead them to home-school all of us children.

Around the age of 7 or 8, I can remember my mom giving me a small booklet on being a good little Christian boy or girl. I thought it was silly and scoffed at it in my little mind, but I remember distinctly feeling a sense of remorse at this thought. Not so much that I had scoffed at “God” or anything, but more so that I had rejected my mother’s advice. I never read the book.

But my parents were intelligent and were not easily phased by our lack of interest in spiritual things. We all loved to play computer games, and they knew that they could get us to do just about anything if they used our love for computers as bait. My parents started this rule: we could not play our allotted one hour of daily computer until we had read the Bible for half an hour. So, of course, we consented. I can remember the drudgery of reading through Isaiah when I was around 10 years old – for half a lifetime (excuse me, half an hour). But it was all worth it because we wanted to play F-19 or blow up Russian tanks in M1 Tank Platoon. It was for a good cause. Because of this I had probably read the Bible from cover to cover 2 or 3 times by the time I was 12 years old.

What my parents could not accomplish, reading the Bible did. Through study of Scripture, I became seriously interested in Christianity. Beyond this, the thing that got me most convicted was a spiritual dream I had when I was around 9 years old. In my dream there was a river with a bank. On that bank lived the devil – in a small shack. There was a small path that separated the devil’s “workshop” from a park at the top of the river bank. In my childlike mind I understood a few ground rules. First of all, I knew deep down that if I crossed the path into the devil’s territory I was able to be caught by him. Unfortunately the poor devil could not cross the path into the park until sundown. So what I would do is sneak past the path, down the riverbank, and tease the devil until he chased me back up the bank to the path. There I would mock him on the other side of the path – confident that he could not get me. But there was a catch.

At sundown the devil could cross back over the path and get anyone he chose. I can remember distinctly in the dream that I was playing with my friends on the playground when I saw the sun slip behind the trees. A deep dread fell over me, as I remembered that the devil could come get anyone he chose. This, of course, would be me. And get me he did.

I remember the dream took on a nasty overtone when the devil grabbed me to take me back to his little “workshop”. The sky was black – a nasty black. The playground faded into the distance. It was just me, the devil – and my dad (of all things). The devil said “But Josh crossed the line, he belongs to me…” I thought to myself: my dad will show him! But my dad said “You are right” (or something like that). I was in the pits of despair, depressed, sullen, and dreading my impending torment. At that moment the entire dream changed. I looked up, and it was no longer my dad next to the devil. It was a man who was facing away from me with dark, long hair. He had his shirt off and he was sweating drops of blood. And the words he spoke before my dream ended have haunted me to this day: “Don’t take Josh, take me instead.”

Then I awoke.

For years this dream was the only token I had that I was “saved”. I considered it a personal revelation from God Himself that I was indeed a Christian, because it was one of the first times I truly grasped the story of salvation. How many people on this planet have a dream when they are a child that clearly reveals the entire gospel message to them in such allegory? While my friends simply had conversion experiences where they were afraid of the rapture when a tornado siren went off (hey, it was Kansas), I had a full-blown revelation from God. Ironically, I was somewhat embarrassed at this story for quite some time because I did not want to be accused of being sensational.

Despite this obvious revelation from God, I was filled with doubts about my salvation for several years after that. I can remember once when someone asked me my “testimony” for an AWANA assignment that I was suddenly stricken with this fear: what if I was not actually saved? How could I know? I never “prayed the prayer” or “had that moment” or had the “date written in my Bible” of when I was saved? How could I know for sure? One would think that the dream would have done it, but not for me.

Most of my agony was due to the preachers I was accustomed to hearing. They would often end their sermons with the little marketing speech “If you have never received Jesus as your Savior, or you have any doubts about your salvation” – then you are probably not saved. I was horrified by these sermons. They terrified the living daylights out of me. I am not sure, but I probably prayed that sinners prayer dozens of times, trying to make sure I “did it right”.

Despite these doubts, I can remember also having my moments of rapture and joy beyond human description. One time I was sitting on my bed (at probably 11 years old), and I remember reading Galatians and I was suddenly filled with this overwhelming sense of God’s presence. It was all I needed. I was enraptured – addicted. I wanted it to never stop. Who was I that the God of the universe would choose me to be his son?

This experience was like gasoline to a flame. I became enamored with spiritual experiences. I can remember sitting on my bed, wanting God to form the clouds into a special message for me – I just knew He could do it. He never did. I remember the dozens of time I must have prayed for God to speak to me personally. I wanted to hear his voice – to feel His touch and to know He was as real in my little physical reality as I knew He was in the spiritual realm. I will not say He never spoke – but that will be a topic for my next post.

I also became extremely ethical. I was honest – too honest. I would often apologize for mistakes I did, dreading the next time communion would come around. Knowing that the pastor would say “If you know of any unconfessed sin in your life, you should talk to that person before you take communion… because some have fallen asleep [died] because they took of the bread and the cup in an unworthy manner.” [Side note: I always wondered why pastors never took this reasoning seriously. They never had the boldness of Paul to claim that someone died in church because of bad communion.] It was an awful thought: that I could be punished by God for taking communion with one unconfessed sin. I would often pray long and hard before communion, asking God to show me any unconfessed sins. Often little “misdeeds” would come to mind, and then I would agonize in torment trying to figure out if this was a “big enough” sin that I needed to go confess it to someone.

I can remember once reprimanding my parents for unfairly arguing that they could watch a movie and us kids could not because it was “inappropriate” for us. This was ridiculous. In my theology, if it was inappropriate for us, it was inappropriate for them. They did not watch the movie (that I know of). I must have been a nightmare!

My own personal internal judgment did indeed extend to others. I would often judge my friends for their dirty jokes, or their swearing (gosh, darn, dang it, etc.), or for their bad theology. I can remember getting so upset that some of my friends believed they could go to heaven by being baptized, or that another friend believed that their pet dog was going to be in heaven. This was just not right. Jesus didn’t die for animals! I would often argue with them for quite some time, pointing out Bible verses to show that they were wrong. I can even remember going to a Ken Ham conference and during the Q&A my “big question” was about how I could prove from the Bible to my friends that animals do not go to heaven. All I got was some equivocation and a slight reference to Ecclesiastes (“Who knows that the soul of man ascends into heaven and the soul of animals descend into the earth?”, paraphrased from memory). Not a very good answer, but it did not bother me at the time.

When I was 12 years old, I remember distinctly sitting in the basement of my house, reading Romans. I came upon Romans 12:1 and was filled with passion for my Lord. I gave my life to Jesus Christ that day, looking into a beam of light coming through the basement window that seemed to wrap me in its arms, as if Jesus Himself was telling me how much He loved me. I was ecstatic. It was the most fulfilling feeling I have probably ever had. Could I have this feeling forever?

That next year my parents moved to a new church and I was baptized. Coming up out of the water at that cool Kansas lake I can remember the feeling that what I had done was right somehow. It was just – well – good. I had done the right thing.

To be continued…

- Josh

Entry filed under: Josh. Tags: , , , .

Free Will Hypocrisy From Tormented Soul to Freed Atheist – Part 2

40 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Richard  |  November 12, 2008 at 1:40 am

    Josh- Kudos on a story well-told. I look forward to the rest. I am impressed by your ability to depict the passion and ecstacy you felt in your “peak” moments. Too often skeptics and atheists underestimate (or forget) just how powerful these sorts of experiences can be. They get too focused on wether they were “real” or not.

    But of course they were real. You really had experiences. The question is what caused them, not their reality. And when the only interpretation offered to you was the Christian one, its no wonder they seem to confirm that hypothesis.

    Im especially intrigued by your dream. From a psychotherapy standpoint, dreams are fascinating. I tend to interpret them as one would a poem (not that you asked for an interpretation!…)

    Just to toss out some ideas, I notice that evil/badness is initially sequestered, in the dream. This makes me think of how all children struggle with how to integrate and manage “unacceptable” parts of the self — thoughts and feelings that are intrinsically uncomfortable and/or actively condemned by ones parents or community. Children also tend to idealize their parents, see them as larger-than-life. Growth and mature adulthood are (in part) when we can see ourselves, and our parents, as realistic, 3-dimensional beings with integrated good and “bad” aspects.

    If you take such things as the devil to represent the unacceptable parts of one’s self, then your dream starts to make sense to me. Your father transforms into Jesus, who becomes is the idealized figure who saves and protects you from your own “badness”. Your internal “split” was solidified or at least strengthed through your contact with Christian ideas. I think thats exactly what fundamentalism does — arrest and ossify early defense mechanisms.

    Okay, Ill lay off the psychbabble. Again, great story!

  • 2. Mark C.  |  November 12, 2008 at 4:00 am

    I’m 22 and also grew up in Kansas. In fact, I’m still in Kansas attending college. Not sure where I’ll go after I graduate, though. But another interesting and entertaining thing we share is the history of having to read the Bible in order to play video games. In my case, I was given one hour per day automatically, and eventually my dad let me play one more hour per day if I read the Bible for an hour. It was absolute torture, but at the time, I was a believer.

    I deconverted in my first or second year of high school, after gaining internet access and looking up atheist sites to see what they believed and why being an atheist was allegedly such a bad thing. A few years later, in my first or second year of college, my father deconverted, with myself having been the catalyst for more critical thought on his part. Unfortunately, the rest of my family is still Christian… including my eight-year-old sister, which bothers me quite a bit.

    Sorry for the rambling. I just like to share my own deconversion story. :P

    You’ve made a nice, interesting post and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your story.

  • 3. Zoe  |  November 12, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Josh,

    I’m almost 30 years your senior and there is much here that brought tears to my eyes, in remembrance. First, my own youth and it’s turn when I became born-again at age 13, second, my own time serving in the youth ministry you speak of here, and third, as a parent of children, your age, who went through their Christian years alongside of you.

    I want to thank you for sharing this with us and I look forward to your remaining posts regarding your story.

  • 4. Gracie  |  November 12, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Thanks for sharing these personal experiences and thoughts from your childhood. I’m looking forward to reading more…..

  • 5. Josh  |  November 12, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Richard –

    Good analysis of my dream :) As you can imagine I have spent countless hours thinking over what occurred in my dream. I must confess I never once equated the devil with the “badness” within myself. From my perspective his presence represented a very real presence of a Satan dynamic evil force in the universe. I never doubted that.

    Here is how I interpreted the dream:

    1) The path represented the line of sin / righteousness. Crossing the path was sin.
    2) The playground represents life.
    3) Crossing the path was my rebellion against what I innately knew was right.
    4) The devil represented Satanic forces.
    5) My teasing the devil represented toying with Satanic demonic influences.
    6) Satan’s inability to cross back over the path represented God’s mercy in waiting for us to repent.
    7) The “deadline” (sundown) represents the time at which God says “enough is enough”.
    8) The fact the devil came to grab me and that my dad said that I did deserve to be taken by him represents the fact that I deserved torment by the devil.
    9) The “twist” in my dream at the end where the playground faded into the distance represented the intensity of the dreams spirituality. It was like God saying “Josh, focus here.”
    10) The sweating drops of blood indicated that this was indeed Jesus.
    11) My dad (Jesus) saying “Don’t take Josh, take me instead” was substitutionary atonement taking place.

    Anyway, that is how I always have been able to interpret the dream, in case you are interested. Pretty intense for a kid.

  • 6. tana  |  November 12, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Josh, wow – great story so far and I can’t wait to read more. I so relate to much of what you have written. It sounds like you and I both share a similar characteristic in the way our minds work. It can be exhausting for me personally. Thinking thinking, always thinking.

    I wouldn’t call myself “de-converted” though I think many Christians would (which is ironic). I just know that out of complete and utter necessity, my faith had to change drastically – most of all, what I used to believe as fact is now up for question and actually irrelevant in the big picture. And to maintain a sort of wonder and awe at what I do still hold true for me in my heart – that even that, I cannot full comprehend and that that’s okay .

    So, you have my undivided attention Josh. I can’t wait to see where you went after this and where you have ended up. It’s refreshing to be able to relate to someone about these things.

  • 7. orDover  |  November 12, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    They would often end their sermons with the little marketing speech “If you have never received Jesus as your Savior, or you have any doubts about your salvation” – then you are probably not saved. I was horrified by these sermons. They terrified the living daylights out of me. I am not sure, but I probably prayed that sinners prayer dozens of times, trying to make sure I “did it right”.

    I think I prayed the sinners prayer every single time it was suggested that I do so, just in case. I remember the stress of feeling over and over again like I was nothing but a damned sinner, never a redeemed child of God. I tried and tried so many times to make sure I said the right words and felt the right sentiments. Even at times when I felt certain I was saved, I thought it best to say the prayer again one more time, just for safety’s sake.

  • 8. Josh  |  November 12, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    orDover –

    Well said. I can remember the rollercoaster of emotions whenever I would start to suspect that a preacher was going to make an alter call.

    Is it not ironic that the preacher begins his appeal by instilling doubt, then he wraps up by offering a simple solution, and then gives zero evidence that the solution actually worked?

  • 9. orDover  |  November 12, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    That’s the entire problem. In a sense, protestant salvation is too easy. So easy that you can never be sure you did it right, until of course you die and either end up down below or up above. I had a catholic friend and I often wish that I had all of those rites to do to ensure salvation. It’s funny how as I type that, I can hear the Christian apologist inside my head saying, “It really is that easy. Man wants to think he can save himself, he wants to be able to perform specific actions to ensure his own salvation, but it is all folly. One has to just pray to Jesus and then lay their burdens of doubt and fear at the cross. It’s that easy but that difficult, because it requires submission of will and pride.” You do not want to live inside my subconscious.

  • 10. freestyleroadtrip  |  November 12, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Very compelling story. I found myself in pain as I read it. Minus the dream, I have been through similar. But I have a question. Why do you, Josh, and so many of the people on de-con come to a point where you feel you had to completely abandon Christianity? Why not examine where it may have gone wrong? I ask with complete sincerity because that is exactly the point at which I find myself, not because I am trying to point out anything to you. My motives are pure. I am making no attempt to re-convert you or anybody else.

  • 11. orDover  |  November 12, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Why do you, Josh, and so many of the people on de-con come to a point where you feel you had to completely abandon Christianity? Why not examine where it may have gone wrong?

    For me, where I realized Christianity went wrong was with the entire concept of a God (especially a “personal” loving one). I can’t really rectify that and still be a Christian. That’s a lot more serious than finding fault with some doctrine or another. It pretty much renders everything bunk. When you realize God and the entire idea of “the spiritual” is such an improbability, it doesn’t make sense to cling to any religion.

  • 12. Josh  |  November 12, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    “Why do you, Josh, and so many of the people on de-con come to a point where you feel you had to completely abandon Christianity? Why not examine where it may have gone wrong? I ask with complete sincerity because that is exactly the point at which I find myself, not because I am trying to point out anything to you. My motives are pure. I am making no attempt to re-convert you or anybody else.”

    All I can say is: stay tuned :) I will carefully and with great pains show how I reached my conclusions.

  • 13. Jeffrey  |  November 12, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    >Why do you, Josh, and so many of the people on de-con come to a point where you feel you had to completely abandon Christianity? Why not examine where it may have gone wrong?

    Christianity is a historical religion. Jesus’ Resurrection and the historicity of other events in the Bible are non-negotiable. Historical basis + faith not working means try harder. But if your faith isn’t working and find the case against the historical claims to be compelling, there is nothing left.

    The trifecta that finished off my faith was Matthew’s misuse of OT prophecy, Jesus’ prophecies about the end of the world in this generation, and the way the stories of Jesus-sightings get bigger and bigger as you read the Gospels in the order written (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John.)

  • 14. Jeffrey  |  November 12, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    >I want to make it as clear as possible that I was as deeply into the faith as one can imagine, because most accusations made against de-converts have to do with the fact that we were never a “true” Christian.

    I fully appreciate the level of detail you putting into this.

    However, keep in mind that “you weren’t really saved” accusations have nothing to do with observations of reality. Seek and you will find. Therefore, if you didn’t find, you didn’t seek. That is an argument that involves closing your eyes, so what evidence you can show doesn’t make a big difference.

  • 15. freestyleroadtrip  |  November 12, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Jeffry. I see your point. But what if, as just one example, major cultural shifts such as the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution which led to a modernist way of thinking and, therefore, affected the general reading that is given to the bible in the present but slanting it in a modernist direction of thought? And what if that modernist reading introduces ways of interpreting the text that are not quite spot on and have lead to this strict fundamentalist view from which we are all (at least most of us on this site) revolting? I am just exploring if my understanding of scripture has been misguided.

  • 16. orDover  |  November 12, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    What if there just isn’t any God?

  • 17. Josh  |  November 12, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    “Seek and you will find. Therefore, if you didn’t find, you didn’t seek. That is an argument that involves closing your eyes, so what evidence you can show doesn’t make a big difference.”

    My goal is to show that I sought far harder than everyone I knew. But I get your point :) I suppose if anything I am hoping that the depth and intensity of searching I did will help stir up others to do their own searching which will inevitably lead them closer to the truth – even if they end up not agreeing with me.

  • 18. freestyleroadtrip  |  November 12, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    orDover. If there is no God then the bible doesn’t mean much and is nothing other than a decent story at times. But I haven’t been convinced yet that there is not God. Have wondered at times, but not convinced. At this point in time, my understanding of the evidence for or against God tells me that there is a God, but that is a whole other topic.

  • 19. SnugglyBuffalo  |  November 12, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Indeed, it wasn’t fundamentalism that led me to de-convert. I could have been the most liberal Christian imaginable, and I still would have given it up.

    I have no need for spirituality, and I see no evidence for anything supernatural, much less for a deity. My problems with Christianity were not about whether my view of God and the Bible was correct, but about whether a God exists at all.

    I didn’t revolt from a strict fundamentalist view, I revolted from the entire concept of theism. A strict fundamentalist view just happens to be the view I previously held.

  • 20. Josh  |  November 12, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    “But what if, as just one example, major cultural shifts such as the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution which led to a modernist way of thinking and, therefore, affected the general reading that is given to the bible in the present but slanting it in a modernist direction of thought?”

    If this is true then we should expect that the Holy Spirit would still fulfill Jesus’ promise to lead his followers into all truth. The very fact that interpretive bias based on certain types of thinking is allowed into the equation and affects our ability to discern the truth seems to me to be good evidence that we are humans interpreting a book by humans and that the Holy Spirit is not involved at all.

    To make things more complicated, consider this: sacrificial systems were superstitious systems of thought (kill this thing, make god happy). This was a way of thinking in the past. The very fact that human thinking can evolve seems to me good evidence that God either needs to intervene in each system of thought or that the better system of thought is the one that was existent around the time of Christ when God supposedly carefully used a sacrificial system of thinking to show his involvement in the human race.

    If God used a style of 1st century thinking, he can certainly use a style of thinking in the 21st century. If 21st century thinking distorts a 1st century message, we are left with nothing better than to say that God’s 1st century message was not designed for a 21st century audience. And if God did not design his 1st century message for a 21st century audience, we either:

    1) Need a new message.
    2) Need to think like 1st century palestinian ex-Jewish Jesus followers.

    And here we have fundamentalist and liberal Christianity. When faced with Christianity we have these two options.

  • 21. The de-Convert  |  November 12, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    fsrt,

    Even though I’ve de-converted from Christianity, it’s not clear to me that there’s NO GOD (however one would describe such a being or beings). However, it is clear to me that Yahweh is a mythical god of an ancient culture who has little of the characteristics that I once gave to “God.” And since Christianity was built on the framework of these myths, its aspects of a deity is also mythical. However, in my eyes, that doesn’t discredit SOME of the teachings attributed to Jesus, whether real or written by religious philosophers, as good guidelines to use for life.

    IMHO, Yahweh is no different that Zeus, Krishna, Allah, or all the other gods you do not believe to be “God.” Bottom line is you may still believe in God but I doubt that he looks anything like Yahweh. However, it takes removing the blinders of “belief” in order to read the Bible as a real book and see the true characteristics of its “god(s).”

    Actually, if you took away Elohim committing genocide w/the flood, he was probably the coolest of the gods… he actually hung out with Adam/walked with Enoch/visited Abraham’s tent/negotiated with Abraham/wrestled with Jacob/etc. When Yahweh showed up, he needed burning bushes/thunder from the mountain/look on his face and die/kill everyone including babies, animals, etc. as you plunder the land/etc. He constantly had to convince people he was the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” cause he was nothing like Elohim…. (this was written as a small sample to demonstrate the mythology of the Bible).

    Paul

  • 22. Jeffrey  |  November 13, 2008 at 12:40 am

    >And what if that modernist reading introduces ways of interpreting the text that are not quite spot on and have lead to this strict fundamentalist view from which we are all (at least most of us on this site) revolting?

    That’s certainly a possibility, and I entertained it for a while both pre and post deconversion. Basically, it was an attempt to find a way to read the Bible which was conservative enough that the Bible had content, and liberal enough that the content was still true. I slowly knocked off the more liberal and more conservative viewpoints, until there was nothing left in the middle.

    I consider the default post-deconversion position to be God exists, but I don’t know what its like or wants (at least assuming that deconversion happens due to Biblical problems.) I continued believing in a God for about six months. I’ve been an atheist only several weeks – and this certainly is a separate question.

  • 23. Richard  |  November 13, 2008 at 2:25 am

    freestyle- From my perspective, the reason I left Cx entirely was a two step process:

    I left conservative Cx because I simply became convinced the things it said about the world weren’t true. The Gospels are not reliable or accurate, Jesus was not divine, human beings are not fundamentally wicked, there may or may not be a god, there will be no apocalypse.

    You can reject these literal, metaphysical truth-claims about the world and still be a Christian. (I actually think you can still be a Cx and not believe in God. But I know a lot of people disagree with that, and I wont push that point here). But the bottom line is that liberal Cx “works” by (re)interpreting Cx symbols, icons,and ideas as, well, symbols. “Human” truths rather than literal truths, if you want to put it that way. The way Shakespeare or Hemingway might be said to contain truth.

    So to me, the question becomes: do you relate to the Christian symbol-system, or not? Does it move you, enrich you, inspire you, make you a better person?

    For me, it didnt. It leaves me cold. So I left.

  • 24. Richard  |  November 13, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Josh – yeah, your interpretation of the dream makes perfect sense, given the cultural idea-system you were getting immersed in. Dreams, to me, are like poems: their utility is in relation to the context and situation you find yourself in.

    It reminds me of an experiment I read about that was done in the 60’s. They took a group of people and gave them all injections of adrenaline. They told some of them what it was and what to expect, and not the others. They then exposed everyone to humorous situations (people cutting up, making jokes) or irritating ones (people being rude, loud). They then asked the subjects to rate their emotional state.

    Those who had been told what to expect from the drug reported little change in their state. They apparently “explained” their rapid heart rate, etc, as the drug effect (which it was). Those who were *not* told about the drug were either angrier or more amused than the others. They “explained” their experience as due to their experience.

    Moral? Identical physiological states can be experienced in radically different ways, depending on the interpretation given to it. I think about that sometimes when I consider the fundamentalist Christian intepretations, of our lives and the world around us, that we believed.

  • 25. orDover  |  November 13, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    So to me, the question becomes: do you relate to the Christian symbol-system, or not? Does it move you, enrich you, inspire you, make you a better person?

    For me, it didnt. It leaves me cold. So I left.

    That is a great point Richard. I’ve been feeling that coldness as I reflect on the upcoming Christian holiday, but it’s been something that is difficult to articulate. I’d like to be able to call myself a “cultural Christian” as Richard Dawkins does, and I’d like to be the kind of atheist who finds a great deal of value in Christ’s teachings and Christian traditions…but I don’t. I’d like to be an atheist who enjoys celebrating Christmas and still feels a cultural connection to the holiday, but I find that I actually get very little enjoyment out of it. Go figure…

  • 26. Mary  |  November 14, 2008 at 2:06 am

    There are very few incredible moments in life.
    Faith is believing in what we do not see. Faith is not an emotional experience; Sometimes we may experience elation along the way, but most often we will not.

    We were designed for the day to day, with very few incredible moments. Though those moments are wonderful, psychologically, physically, emotionally, and indeed spiritually, (if you choose to acknowledge this facet) we are beings that are not meant to constantly be in the excited state – constant stimulation in the brain equates to a grand mal seizure (if prolonged, causing a lack of oxygen, too much glutamate, and often significant brain damage, or even death).
    Life on the mountaintop though exciting from the view and the rush of reaching from the top – is exciting for a moment, but nothing grows above tree line. There is less oxygen, it is colder. The valley of every day is where life is cultivated, where things grow.

    Just something to think about – we are often too worried about how we “feel”… Feeling should never outweigh truth.
    Yes, it would be wonderful if I could ‘hear’ God’s voice everyday, every moment. There have been very few times in life where I feel God has intervened… for the rest of the time, I hold on to what I know to be true, and trust the ‘voice’ of God, which I can see at work in the laughter of an orphan child though he has experienced such pain that could make any adult bitter, or in the homeless mother seeking out that last ounce of patience and endurance and she herds her 7 children towards their room in the shelter for bed, or in the face of a student after getting back a project they worked so hard on, or in an old man as he offers to help me carry my groceries, though my back is much stronger than his.

    I understand that no one can deny that there is beauty in all of this. But I for one cannot believe that this short life is IT – there is too much pain and devastation, war and lies, fractions and deceit – even within the church of all places. How ridiculous and tear-warranting.
    I am sure that the way we live our lives now is preparation for the resurrected life – the fulfilled life that will come with the New Heavens and New Earth. If all we are living for are these few years, or just as lame, for an ethereal disembodied state, we are to be pitied, – just as the flowers on the corner who will not last the first frost, even if they might last the Chicago litter, squirrels, teens, and polution.

  • 27. Mary  |  November 14, 2008 at 2:10 am

    ps. that first bit was my response to the ‘elation moments’ followed by the longing to ‘hear God’s voice’… and once my mouth starts, it’s difficult to stop – I call it Parkinsons of the mouth.

  • 28. Richard  |  November 14, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Mary – I find your sentiments lovely. I share your sense life as the everyday, punctuated by rare moments of ecstasy and higher vision. I dont experience those moments as God, as you do, but their effect for my life is the same. As a counterbalance I also like the Jewish concept of “the piety of the ordinary”, as a way to elevate just that long string of everyday moments into something more, well, holy.

    Lets just say that its a work in progress. :) But I will differ with you on one important point: the idea that we are to be, as you say, “pittied” for having just these few years…. well, I used to feel that way. But I have come now to feel that that very brevity is precisely what makes our years so precious and sacred. I find it invalidating, myself, to think that my life now is just a warm-up for some other world. This one is where I live and feels much more important to me than that.

  • 29. Josh  |  November 14, 2008 at 3:09 am

    “Feeling should never outweigh truth.”

    Well said, Mary. It was often – quite often actually – that people would remind me of this. But I could not get past how full of “feeling” most of the Biblical expositions were. Love, joy, peace, everlasting peace, peace that the world cannot give, God’s Spirit testifying with our Spirit, a sense of God’s presence, etc. These are all things that can be felt, per se. In my mind, if they cannot be felt, then faith is a cold stone and might as well not exist and we might as well trust science anyway. To me, Christianity only had value if it provided some sense of internal peace and contentment beyond what this world can give. Some claim to have found this (and I often felt it in those early years) but it quickly faded, as my next portion of the story will show…

  • 30. Ubi Dubium  |  November 14, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Mary-

    I understand that no one can deny that there is beauty in all of this. But I for one cannot believe that this short life is IT – there is too much pain and devastation, war and lies, fractions and deceit – even within the church of all places.

    Often I hear christians ask “without god, how can your life have any meaning?” Well, you have just, perhaps inadvertantly, given the answer yourself. Life is short, and it is full of “pain and devastation, war and lies, fractions and deceit”, so as a non-theist I can find meaning by fighting against that, working to make the world a better place, and seeking out the beauty that the world has to offer.

  • [...] 13, 2008 In my previous post, I recounted my childhood years and the wonder and awe I felt at being a child of God. True, there [...]

  • 32. TitforTat  |  November 14, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Faith is not an emotional experience; (Mary)

    Of course faith has an element of emotion to it, just as logic does. We live in a world of duality, so they are always in constant flux. Maybe thats the only” real truth” out there. Heres a good one for you.

    “Life is like surfing, sometimes youre riding the wave, sometimes youre crashing into shore, most times youre paddling for another wave.”

  • 33. Mary  |  November 14, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Richard from post 28, and Ubi Dubium,

    I am sorry that I did not express myself well.
    This world does have meaning, and this life does hold truth and beauty, and yes, even wonder.

    I treasure these days, and years that I am allowed to have — if I did not, I would not be getting my bachelors in Psychology with hope to go on to get a Masters in Social Work — there would be no point, if I were simply a “Warm-Up for some other world”… I’m sorry that that is what you heard me saying – I meant instead (though again, sorry that it came badly):
    These years can hold the beauty of love, truth, hope, and joy, though they are sprinkled with their opposite. I live these days, seeking to rid the oppression, to create and alternate society in which people find love truth hope and joy, instead of hate, lies, despair, and pained tears.
    I am confident that this society will come to its fulfillment in the Renewed Heavens and Earth.

    Yes, I still say, this life is short, we can seek its best, but yes, it is also a pity if the majority of us (over 50% will get Alzheimers if we live past 70-80).
    It is pitiable perhaps not for those who live in comfort of family or wealth, but definitely for those who live in poverty and loss, like little Dani – a five year old boy in Mexico, whose Mother left him and his siblings to a drunken father and a sexually abusing uncle, who now after being found, will live out the rest of their childhood and youth at an orphanage (where yes, they will get food and shelter, though their lives and certainly their dreams are still troubled by their past, and not fully ministered to by their present.)
    Yes, years like these are indeed pitiable if there is no hope of something better, something fulfilled, the way things were meant to be.

    To Ubi Dubuim, “so as a non-theist I can find meaning by fighting against that, working to make the world a better place, and seeking out the beauty that the world has to offer.”
    I think that is wonderful. Continue on!
    Good can be pursued in our own power, but I believe that more good can be pursued by a group, a people who are united in love, empowered by a force that aids them when they grow weary, and who spur each other on to the same goal – social justice, peace, and love.
    This is what I see in the Gospel, the true Gospel of Jesus, of the Bible, and of the early church — not the 5 step ‘gospel’ followed by ‘the prayer’. In a second post, I will include what this Gospel is – evident in Jesus’ teachings, Jewish thought, and early Christian practice.

  • 34. Mary  |  November 14, 2008 at 11:05 am

    This is the Gospel. Jesus Christ came to earth to bring the kingdom of God (an alternate, redemptive society which does the will of God – liberating the oppressed, healing the harmed, feeding the hungry, helping the weary, loving others in general), that by his death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the kingdom has already come, and it possible to identify with Jesus the Messiah, to die with him and live fully with him, that we may live out this life in pursuit of this society, this kingdom come, one with each other, and one with God, through to the completion of the kingdom with the restored, renewed Earth and Heaven.
    -longest run-on senstence ever… –
    This is the Gospel preached in the Bible, and the Good News that those who seriously commit to it are to embody and uphold.
    If you don’t, then you don’t; and that’s fine.
    If that is something you find you would ascribe to, Jesus says, Come, Follow me.

  • 35. orDover  |  November 14, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Wow…she just gave us the sinner’s prayer. Did you read this post, Mary, or any of the comments? Do you understand what this site it about?

    Feeling should never outweigh truth

    I’d like to know on what truth you base your faith. And when I say “truth”I mean something verifiable and empirical, open to multiple tests.

    But I for one cannot believe that this short life is IT – there is too much pain and devastation, war and lies, fractions and deceit – even within the church of all places. How ridiculous and tear-warranting.

    So, let me get this straight. I know I’m doing a little bit of reading between the lines here, but in the first part of your comment you say to rely on truth, not emotions, but this bit seems like nothing but an emotional appeal. You feel like there must be an afterlife because of what you see. What proof do you have of that? Or is in, after all, a faith based on emotion?

  • 36. Mary  |  November 14, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    orDover of post #35, I am sorry to have caused any outrage. I say so, quite humbly. I realize that I am not a part of this community, and so I am here as a lowly reader.
    I was invited to this site by an acquaintance and invited to respond. I am very sorry if what I have said has offended him. I meant nothing like it.
    And yes, from reading the post and the blog returns, I thought that responses were welcome, and judging from the spirit of the notes, I reasoned that beliefs were welcomed – that a reasonable conversation and discourse might result.

    I did not mean to present a “sinner’s prayer”, in fact, I always try to do the opposite – I am not keen on a “sinner’s prayer”… It’s a bummer how often words can be misleading.

    I suppose I should be sorry that I mentioned my faith — I simply wanted to present the view from the other side that is often lacking even within the church. I will know better next time, and try to respond or not respond accordingly.

  • 37. orDover  |  November 14, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Wow. You didn’t outrage me. I was asking you honest questions. I asked if you read this post or understood the point of thus forum only because we know the information you presented. We know it just as well as you do. You aren’t telling us anything new. It isn’t that you can’t say it, but it might be better to figure out your audience first. We’re all ex-Christians, some ex-Pastors, some ex-fundamentalists, some ex-Bible scholars. We know the story backwards and forwards. We don’t need anyone to tell us to follow Jesus. It does seem a little bit insulting when someone comes along and presents it as if it is new information. But I’m just chocking it up to the fact that you didn’t understand your audience. I don’t think your words have offended anybody, but if you’re going to comment, be prepared to have your comments answered.

    It isn’t wrong that you “mentioned” your faith. We have several Christian commentors, and even sometimes post written by Christians as guest contributors. It’s just that the view you present is one that we all know intimately well. It isn’t new. And you would have known that if you would have take a second to look around and figure out who you are talking to. You could have clicked the links next to the big red exclamation point.

    Interestingly, you never answered my original question: what truth (empirical, evidence-based truth) do you base your faith on?

  • 38. Mary  |  November 14, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Oh, okay, I am very sorry for the confusion, and my own ignorance on the matter. I suppose I thought I was simply replying to Josh’s story rather than to the entire site, again, my ignorance. I will know better next time, and do the proper inspection beforehand. I meant not to offend those who “know this better than I do…” (an assured presumption indeed). However, I can see where you are coming from now, and again, sorry to displease.

    I do not particularly enjoy having my life on display – though I suppose I kind of walked into that by responding, huh? :)
    Okay… and answer.

    (First off… If you would like to pick apart what I will say next, that is fine, but if you would actually like to have a conversation, please feel free to e-mail me (ya-man@juno.com). It is not an email I use often anymore, but I will check it intermittantly now – and please say in the subject line the purpose – so I don’t accidently delete it as an ad or spam.)

    What truth to I base my faith on? In the way most things work mathematically and physically (the constant of light, that gravity works just right – not too large a force not too small, that the Earth is placed at the correct location to sustain life on this planet, that there does seem to be a correct formation of the human brain such that human beings can not only think and reason, but communicate and have higher order processing – such that can be seen in other species, but not to the same level), I believe that there is some deity that ordered everything if not still, at least at first.

    Now, I am not a scientist, a mathematician, or a theologian, so I do not claim to have any expertise on the matter, though I have studied to a point Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology (and a father who is a Geophysicist – I’ve heard much of what is to be said from hard sciences), and that is my conclusion (again, nothing groundbreaking).
    There is some order (though yes, there is also entropy:), therefore I believe some force or something can order it. Kind of a Cogito, Ergo Sum-deal, to borrow a little from Descartes.

    From the (albeit brief, I still have more ‘research’ to do) studies I have done on other religions, as well as from visiting various religious sites (mosques, temples, congregations, etc), the faith following Jesus of Nazareth has convinced me (though yes, I have bias from my rearing — I would venture to state that noone is completely without bias.)
    What is faith? Often defined as believing in what we do not see… I cannot concisely define what empirical evidence I base all of my faith on.
    What is truth? That is what I am searching for daily – as we all are, though we all believe we find it in different places.

    I’m sorry if that may be unsatisfactory – I fear I have already taken up enough room on this blog, and so we can either meet or exchange notes… but that is what my ‘empirical’ evidence for my faith is. Though the meaning of empirical is that it can be repeatably tested — and I know not how to scientifically “test” reasons for faith or lack thereof (there is not really anything I can narrow down to prove causation, nor isolate and control) – other than seeing if it lasts, I suppose.

  • 39. orDover  |  November 14, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I suppose I thought I was simply replying to Josh’s story rather than to the entire site, again, my ignorance.

    Yes, but my point was that, in this post, Josh made it really clear that he already understands the gospel message.

    I meant not to offend those who “know this better than I do…” (an assured presumption indeed). However, I can see where you are coming from now, and again, sorry to displease.

    I don’t really enjoy being misquoted. I never said we know this “better” than you, I said that we know it as well as you.

    As for your proof, I’m not going to pick it apart piece by piece, but just point out that it all basically boils down to, “I look at the physical world and I seem to see design.” That isn’t any truth or proof. It’s an assumption, and even one based on some false concepts. I’ll just take one as an example: the location of the earth. When I was a Christian I heard all the time about the “specialness” of earth’s placement, that if it was just a bit closer or just a bit further away from the sun, life would not be sustainable, and that it was unique in the solar system. But the fact of the matter is that there are several other earth-like planets that we know of in the universe, and surely many more that we don’t know of. There are even planets in our own solar system which at an earlier era could have, and might have, supported life (Mars and Venus). The idea that earth is “fined tuned” for life is largely an illusion resulting from a lack of information (and that same principle applies to many of the “design” phenomena seen in nature). Not to mention the fact that, even if earth was in a slightly different location, it could still support life. Organisms can thrive in harsh environments. We even have some that live in volcanos and in the massive pressure of the deep ocean So even if the earth was far closer to the sun an much hotter, life could thrive. Adding to that is the fact that while the earth might seem primed for life right now (at least warm-blooded mammalian life), it won’t always be that way, and it hasn’t always been that way.

    Douglas Adams summed this up when he wrote:
    “…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.”

  • 40. Mary  |  February 20, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    I am sorry that it has been more than a year before I remembered to write this.
    Too often I have sought to defend my own broken self and words and even to turn a conversation into a debate – in which there is a winner and a loser, and then forget to love instead of prove. I apologize for any harsh or unkind words.
    So I would like to leave this saying, may well being be upon you; may you find peace and be whole.

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Attention Christian Readers

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

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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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