From Tormented Soul to Freed Atheist – Part 2

November 13, 2008 at 11:17 pm 27 comments

In my previous post, I recounted my childhood years and the wonder and awe I felt at being a child of God. True, there were my moments of doubt and darkness, but they were always trumped in those early years by the moments of rapture and ecstasy as I read the very living Word of God and soaked up Christian teaching like a deer to water.

I cannot even begin to describe what followed my twelfth birthday. My love for Jesus turned into a living hell that words cannot describe. Most of my teenage years I just wished I could die to just relieve some of my doubts. I contemplated suicide. I had a loving family, loving friends, I was intelligent and insightful, wise beyond my years (as many told me), was far beyond the learning and knowledge of my peers about my faith, and was intelligent and had the potential for great success in life. By the time I was fourteen or fifteen I had to have read the Bible at least six times completely – not including the countless thousands of times I had poured over certain texts and their associated commentaries. I would often spend an hour or more in Scripture per day, trying to understand what passages meant. But I was an emotional wreck beyond words.

To help people understand the depth of my curiosity about Scripture, I should probably describe the black and white way in which I viewed the living Word of God. In my little teen mind, it occurred to me that if all 66 books of the Bible were inspired / God-breathed by the almighty, fearful, just and holy God of this universe, then it was in my best interest to understand every verse and line as much as I could. To me, memorizing John 3:16 and Romans 8:1 were child’s-play. I wanted to know what Revelation was about, what Ezekiel was about, and why Christians today do not have women wear a head covering to come to church. I wanted to know why Paul said women should not braid their hair, yet even women in conservative churches braid their hair out of modesty. I wanted to know why most Christians did not rest on the Sabbath even though Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I wanted to know it all. After all, every word was inspired by God and the Bible was God’s love letter to me.

But in addition to my desire to know the Bible, I also had a passion to receive and be filled with the Holy Spirit. What was up with this second baptism thing? I thought it was somewhat hypocritical that my spiritual mentors loved the writings, devotion, and teaching of A.W.Tozer, but they flippantly dismissed his view on the second baptism. This seemed so, well, disrespectful! They wanted to take his theology that made them feel a certain way (holiness of God, sinfulness of man, etc.) but dismissed core teachings they did not agree with. I thought it was odd that my spiritual mentors were so – well – lazy in their spiritual faith. Did they not care? Well, I would not be like them. I would care. So I desperately sought to have the depth of spiritual life of men like Tozer, Spurgeon, or Bunyan.

Around this time I started experiencing voices in my head. At first I thought they were from God (or angels). They (at first it was only one voice) would give me suggestions on what I should do, or encourage me in a certain path, or speak Bible verses to me. Normally they were pretty passive, saying things like “I love you”, or “You are my child”, or quoting verses like “The fruit of the spirit is love”, etc. I loved these voices. They were enthralling, and I felt that I had a connection with God that was beyond that of my peers. Keep in mind these voices began when I was around thirteen years old.

But then things started going dark. To be honest, my years from the age of thirteen to sixteen are so dark ‘spiritually’ I can barely remember how awful they were. I will do my best to recount what was going through my head. To do this, I will simply explain one (of literally dozens) of consistent ‘battles’ going on in my head at this time.

As a fundamentalist, conservative, Bible-believing Christian in the midwest, our family and its hand-picked churches adhered to the notion that a believer cannot lose their salvation. Using proof texts like John 10:29, my pastors and family would carefully explain how biblical it was to hold this view.

But my own reading of the Bible told me otherwise. Now that I look back I feel that most of my spiritual mentors – as ‘godly’ as they were – were dishonest. They did not want certain Bible verses to exist, so they would use the hermaneutical principle that the “clearer passage interprets the more difficult” to back up whatever theology they wanted to hold. So then, if they wanted to believe in “once-saved-always-saved” theology, well then the “clear” passages were obviously the ones they agreed with and the “difficult” passages were the ones that made their theological stance appear incorrect. Obviously, if interpreted “right”, those difficult passages were really saying what the simpler ones were.

There were three particular texts that honestly terrified me night and day for years. At times I was so horrified by these texts I literally wished I could just die (or commit suicide) so that I could get them off my mind. They are:

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:4-6, this one definitely bothered me the most.

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” 1 John 5:16

And Matthew 12:22-32 [Not quoted for brevity. "Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" passage.]

What bothered me so much was just how bad every single interpretation of these passages was. To me they were crystal clear: a person could lose their salvation. Not only this, but if a person did “lose their salvation”, they could not gain it back. Furthermore, if you couple these with 2 Peter 2:20-22, a person who has come to Christ and turned their back is worse off than when they started.

Now, by themselves these passages were not enough of a catalyst to encourage my doubts. But coupled with an experience I had, they soon became all I could think about night and day for years.

One day I was sitting reading my Bible and came across the Matthew 12 passage (or its equivalent in the other synoptics). As I read, a thought popped into my head: “The Holy Spirit is a bitch”. I had never sworn in my life. This thought nearly knocked me over. Had I just blasphemed the Holy Spirit? If I had, did this not mean that I could never be forgiven “in this age or the age to come?”

What was this blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, anyway? How could there possibly be a teaching that a person could reach a state where they could not be forgiven? I thought every moment we lived on this planet was a testament to the mercy of God in giving us “another chance”? A camp pastor once taught that this passage was referring to the sin of unbelief. If a person dies “not believing”, they will never be forgiven (quite a clever interpretation!) This helped me out for a while, but I kept feeling that this was all wrong. This is not what the passage said, even though it was a cute interpretation and made me feel better.

To make matters more complicated, it occurred to me that even though I was “saved now”, what if I denied my Lord later? My family regularly received Voice of the Martyrs magazines and paraphernalia. I read Richard Wurmbrands Tortured for Christ and almost literally was frozen stiff for most of it. I was not afraid of the torture so much as I was that I could, quite possibly, someday be put into that awful situation where I might deny Christ. What if I did? The Bible says in one place that if you deny the son before men, he will also deny us before the father. It occurred to me that I could spend an entire life in devotion to my Lord and loving Savior and then, in a moment of weakness, deny him and spend and eternity in hell anyway. So much for hope.

I poured daily over these passages. I read every commentary I could find, and regularly talked to my dad and pastors about my doubts. Often I would go for a few days and be “fine”, and then reading the Bible I would feel the strong urge to turn to those passages and muse on them as if gnawing my spiritual fingernails bare. I was worn, abused, and tortured of mind. I was agonizing over my potential fate like a dog licking its fungi-ridden paws until they bled. I was miserable.

Nothing could relieve my doubts, and I tried everything. If I talked to someone about these passages in Scripture no one would give me a straight answer. Often they would just ignore the passage as if it was irrelevant to the Christian faith. Why could I not just believe? Idiots! Why could they not see what was right in front of their eyes? The Bible was so crystal clear! Could they not see it? Why were they not terrified? Did no one care?

To make matters more frustrating, Paul talks about the seal of the Holy Spirit and how a follower of Christ has the Spirit of Christ testify with our Spirit that we are indeed children of God. But then it occurred to me that my doubts were probably good evidence that I was not saved, because I certainly did not feel like a Spirit was testifying with my spirit. If I was saved, why did I doubt? How could other Christians have occasional doubts but it was not a big deal for them? What in the name of God was wrong with me?

To make matters more frustrating, there is no consensus at all in the Christian community on whether an individual can or cannot lose their salvation. No commentaries that I read about Hebrews 6, for example, seem to make any sense of what the passage actually says. They often run in circles around the passage like it has some sort of mystical meaning that none of us can quite grasp, then explain all the “popular” interpretations, and then sum up by saying that “this is a difficult passage”. What the… I already knew that. But what does it mean?

I can remember going to my parents on multiple occasions trying to get help. They would just say I was going through puberty (which “all kids my age go through”), or that I was arrogant and spiritually proud. Sometimes my dad would sit down with me and say “Josh, maybe you have not ever truly become a Christian”. My doubts would well up even more at this suggestion. Maybe he was right? I felt like he was pouring salt on my wound. I already believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that I could not be saved through my good works. I was even more spiritual, more in-tune with God than he was. How dare he! What more could God want? If my faith was not enough – what more did I need to do? Did I need to be baptized by the Holy Spirit a second time? If so, God – get on with it! But it gets worse! If Hebrews 6 is correct, then admitting that I was not already saved meant I could never be saved at all because I had already tasted the heavenly gift. And if I could never be saved, I might as well die and go to hell then and there.

It was awful. I was in mental anguish, on the brink of suicide, and my parents would not even bring in a pastor to talk to me about it. I wanted a psychiatrist and they did nothing. Nothing at all. Instead I was left to wallow in this freakish guilt and condemnation for years on end. If I were to admit that I was not a Christian, it would mean admitting that all of my spiritual experiences up to that point (including my dream, giving my life to the Lord at age 12, and numerous other experiences) were all facades. I would be admitting I was a fake, a liar, an impostor in the church. But if I admitted that my previous spiritual experiences and beliefs were wrong, what could I replace them with? If my dream, for example, was not ‘real’, then how could I trust any spiritual experience in the future?

The voices added to the torture. They began to be darker, more ominous, and often condemning. They derailed me, reviled me. One moment a voice would say “Josh, you must be such a good Christian that God would allow you to be tempted by Satan like this.” The next moment a voice would say “Josh! What a wicked sinner you are for thinking such a proud thought. In order to be greatest in the kingdom, you must become the least”. These voices would often go on for hours and hours. I could not pay attention to schoolwork, I could not enjoy anything, I was depressed almost all the time. If I had gone to a psychiatrist, I probably would have been labeled a bipolar schizophrenic. [More on this in my next note, and how I have completely cured myself from these voices.]

The only thing that kept me going through all this time was the thought that I must not be alone. Reading stories of John Bunyan and other Christians who went through the dark nights of doubt and came out on the other side as great Christian writers or orators gave me the courage to keep going. I felt that I was on a mission from God, and some day I would be free from all this mess and would then be able to help others who had gone through the same “trials”. I often comforted myself with 1 Peter 5:8-9.

These dark years lasted from when I was thirteen until probably last year. They consistently got better as time went on. I can remember when I was seventeen I laughed freely at a joke in church. My friend Anthony looked at me with surprise in his eyes and said “Josh, I haven’t heard you laugh like that in a long time.” I was embarrassed. Unfortunately, each time someone would say something like this it would only hurl me back into doubt, despair, darkness, and agony. What the heck was wrong with me?

As I have mentioned, some people would comfort me by saying I was just going through adolescence. Others would say I was spiritually proud. Others would say I was extra spiritually “sensitive”. I consistently thought I was going through some demonic oppression.

Oh, one other thing I desperately need to mention. During this entire time I would often feel demonic presences in my room. My hair would stand on end, I would get goosebumps, and I would feel as if there was a living soul hovering above me, ready to show its face and terrify the living daylights out of me (see Job 4:12-16). This probably occurred a couple hundred times over the course of my teenage years. I often submitted this “being” to scientific tests, and did everything I could to prove it was only in my own mind (I now believe it was, but that will be covered in my next note). I was extremely scared. I would leave the room where I felt the presence, and immediately the feeling of its presence would go away. It would not follow me. Then I would reenter the room and it would be there, as clear as ever. I could turn on a light, and it would not go away. I would just sit and pray, begging God to send it away. Eventually it would pass on like a fog lifting.

Similarly, I would often get the feeling that “something was wrong”. I would have panic attacks, which I learned to control out of sheer will power. Often these would occur and I would suppress them, trying to act normal. They would normally be triggered by communion, alter calls, or reading certain passages in the Bible and especially at times when I needed to contain myself the most (in church for example).

Sometimes people would encourage me to read the Bible to alleviate my doubts and fears. They never seemed to have the brains to realize that reading the Bible increased my doubts and fears. I was so afraid to admit that I was terrified beyond imagination by some of the things the Bible so clearly said. Others would read the Bible and get a warm fuzzy feeling and say how loved they felt by God. I would read the Bible and ignore those “easy” passages. What about the ones that say that a person can be predestined for hell and eternal torment? Do those make people feel lovely? What if I was that person?

I probably should mention my sexual life during this time. I was terrified by my sexuality. Sexual stimulation from anything made me feel miserable. I knew what Jesus said. He said that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. After all, it is better to enter the kingdom without a hand or eye than to enter the eternal fires of hell. There were moments where I seriously considered following these verses. And then some Christians had the gall to say that they were metaphoric? Jesus taught clearly that it is best for some people to become eunichs for the sake of the kingdom.

I must confess that my fear of my sexuality basically kept me from discovering masturbation until I was nineteen years old. I did not even know what sex was until then. When I was around thirteen my dad had the customary “talk” with me. He told me everything – except what sex was. I remember asking him: “Dad, well, I know all about my sexual urges now, but what is sex?” I can remember him sortof shift in his seat uncomfortably and very sternly he said “Josh, that is something you will discover when you get married.” Get married? That could be ten years from now! I was filled with an irrational sense of curiosity about this subject, and at the same time was restricted beyond imagination by my fears of committing sexual thought crime. I was absolutely miserable. So many times I wanted to open the dictionary out of sheer curiosity, but was held back by my “love” for God and desire to be holy – and fear of sin. My friends did not seem to have these problems. What was their problem? Why were they not miserable all the time because of pent-up sexual energy? When I was older I discovered that they probably did not have these problems because they were regularly masturbating. I spent years of purity, resisting every sexual urge, wallowing in the freakish misery of being sexually stressed out, and my friends enjoyed life because they did not take the Bible as seriously?

When I was fifteen or sixteen I wanted to get a girlfriend. My parents kept telling me I was not “ready”. I should wait until I was more mature. They consistently told me this over and over. I read Joshua Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and bought it hook, line, and sinker. But how was I supposed to know when I was “ready”? After all, what makes someone “ready”? I had all the hardware, what was wrong with my software? The teachings I learned about relationships in the church did the greatest thing in the world to destroy my relationships with women. I was always awkward, despite my raging hormones, because I was always wondering whether the level of my hormones was a sign that I was sinning or not. I was always analyzing my relationships, trying to figure out if it was “God’s will”. I was always analyzing the women I was interested in, to see if we were “spiritually compatible”. If I had a bad thought, was that enough that I needed to back off from the woman? What if liked two girls at a time, did this mean that I was not a “one-woman” man (per Paul’s requirements for eldership)? What if I sat next to a girl and had an erection? Should I chop off my hand or not?

One last thing before I end. When I was thirteen years old, I remember reading a little about evolution. I was enamored by the beauty and clarity of the theory. The thought popped into my head: “This is amazing!” Then it occurred to me that it could not be true, because the Bible says otherwise. Therefore, I must be under attack by Satanic forces. I was thoroughly confused. How could Satan’s theory of evolution be so beautiful and make so much sense? I spent my entire teenage years supressing this thought, in fear that I was under spiritual attack for seeing the beauty of evolution. I bought six-day creation thoroughly. If you look in the Creation Magazine archives and find that I wrote Answers in Genesis back in the late 90’s and was printed in the letters to the editors section.

Well, I had probably better wrap this up. I think you guys get the point. My teenage years were a living nightmare. Every thought, every action, and every feeling were under constant scrutiny by my desire to honor Jesus, obey Him, and be “Holy as I am holy” – at all costs. I was truly trying to bring every thought into subjection unto Christ.

To be finished…

- Josh

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From Tormented Soul to Freed Atheist – Part 1 The Psychology of Apologetics: I Love to Tell the Story

27 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Humanistdad  |  November 14, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Interesting story! It’s terrible that childhood indoctrination can have such terrifying consequences.

  • 2. Gracie  |  November 14, 2008 at 10:46 am

    I can relate to so many of the emotions you were experiencing during the teen years. It’s heartbreaking to read about the inner turmoil you struggled with constantly only to be met with more confusion from those you admired and respected the most.

    Powerful read – still absorbing……………………….looking forward to Part 3.

  • 3. Zoe  |  November 14, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Josh, so raw and honest. Thank you again for sharing with us.

    I remember in my teens, (I read the Bible as well and like you, I tried to understand the Revelation-type stuff.)

    Every single night, though I was “saved” I prayed that I’d be alive when Jesus came and that I’d be one of those who would be Raptured. I’d detail to Jesus that I believed in Him and please don’t leave me here to go through the Tribulation. Please.

    Night after night after night after…

  • 4. Rob  |  November 14, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    I marvel that they call this belief system “good news”.

  • 5. Richard  |  November 14, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Josh – I am impressed and humbled by the overwhelming misery of your experience. I hardly know what to say, except — to skip ahead in your story — congratulations for getting away from such a horrible system. I applaud you.

    My own experience was not as intensely miserable as yours, but it was pretty damn miserable, and the Christianity I knew did nothing to help and in fact made my life worse. My sticking point had to do with this idea from CS Lewis that one must empty one’s will in order to submit to God. Which is to say, I thought you needed to want *only* God and look to be satisfied and fulfilled solely by ones relationship with God.

    But to submit your will for that reason — to get that satisfaction and fulfilment — was disguised self-assertion. I.e., pride and sin. So, in effect, I undestood that you had to stop being unhappy that you are unhappy, in order to have a relationship with God.

    I tied myself into knots trying to accomplish this. In the end it just amplified my misery. But, like you, I noticed that so many people around me didnt seem to struggle with this. Their faith seemed a source of comfort for them, rather than a millstone around their neck, like mine was.

    I have sometimes wondered since if the difference between people like you and I, and those we used to know, is that we took the whole thing much, much more seriously then they ever did. If you take Cx only 80%, but leave out the sticky parts, you can make it work. But if you take it all seriously, it makes you crazy.

  • 6. freestyleroadtrip  |  November 14, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I can’t help but notice that what Josh describes was very black and white. It was either this way or that way, but nowhere in between. I have too come from that background, and Richard and Josh are both right, it doesn’t work. And to make it work you have to lie to yourself. But the question that I currently am exploring is that maybe that Enlightenment style binary thought process is not the correct manner to approach faith in a Christian God and the Bible. Maybe it isn’t all supposed to fit together for a reason, and maybe I need to look at it all differently. I have just started a book by Peter Rollins called “how (not) to speak of God” which seems like it may help me answer some of this. Please don’t think that I am making light of Josh’s story. I do not intend that at all. His story is hell on earth, and I hurt for you, Josh. And it just may be that I am somewhere along that same path that you took, exploring the same questions that you did. Thanks for sharing so honestly.

  • 7. bluelyon  |  November 14, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Josh, like you, I wanted to make all the pieces “fit” and one of my early questions to my pastor was regarding tongues. I mean … was tongues for the individual believer or as a witness to the unsaved? If the latter, then why did Paul tell us that if strangers come in to our church where we are all praying in tongues, thye’d say we are crazy? But I thought it was a witness to the unbeliever. So, if not for the unbeliever and just for me, how could something coming out of my mouth that I didn’t understand edify ME? etc, etc, etc. the questions went round and round and round.

    I was told that I just had to “take it on faith,” which I had no problem doing, except that my faith was not going to be in my human pastor’s interpretation, it was going to be in God, who wasn’t making himself clear At All.

    Yours is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. I am looking forward to Part 3!

  • 8. Philip  |  November 14, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    …this article hit very, very close to home, uncomfortably so. Still, it is a little bit of a relief that I wasn’t alone in facing that sort of mental instability caused by grappling with the biblical accounts. Thank you for sharing this, Josh.

  • 9. Josh  |  November 15, 2008 at 1:05 am

    Humanistdad and Gracie-

    Thanks for your encouragement :)

    Zoe –

    “Raw and honest” sums up my attitude about this period in my life at this time. There is a part of me that shudders at it and honestly I did not really feel like writing it all out, but to some extent I feel it is my duty. Oftentimes Christians only focus on the good feelings / hopes of their faith. It has been interesting that most Christians become much more open when they see that people like me are actually desperately hurting from beliefs that nearly drove us mad. As you can relate, it is the nagging doubts that torment the mind that do the most damage. Thanks for reading!

    Rob –
    *chuckles*

    Richard –

    It is good to know you experienced the misery as well. I find it odd that in your case C.S.Lewis was what “ailed you” (at least to some degree). In my case C.S.Lewis was my hero.

    Your comment about feeling pressured to stop being “unhappy” about being “unhappy” is so well worded. I confess I often felt the same. For me, I felt that in order to be a good Christian I needed to deny myself, and denying myself obviously meant denying myself a certain level of happiness. In other words I felt pressured to make myself unhappy in order to gain true joy. “I beat my body to make it my slave”. I somewhat feel sorry for the apostle Paul. Poor guy, he probably experienced a lot of what we have himself.

    Honestly, there is so much I feel that I need to say, but given just how miserable and tormented I was it was just about all I could do to write what is above. I’m so glad its over – for both of us :D

    freestyleroadtrip –

    I appreciate your perspective, but I really did try to come up with some “non-binary” perspectives on Christianity. C.S.Lewis’ perspetive on hell is “non-binary”, as well as his perspective on “heaven”. The problem is that “going to hell” and “not going to hell” is pretty much a binary thing. It did not comfort me to imagine that maybe there was a third “in-between” option. “God exists” and “God does not exist” is binary. “Jesus Christ rose bodily” and “Jesus Christ did not rise” is binary. Rather interestingly, you might notice that throughout history the parts of the faith that have been fought over with the most strife and even bloodshed have been the “non-binary” parts, like what “substance” Christ was of, or in what “form” Christ rose, or “how much free-will does man have”. I guess I do not really want a Christianity that is all grey: it would only open up even more room for discord.

    blyelyon –

    Lol, oh man, I hated the tongues passages. Haha, you noticed that contradiction too? I was always surprised at how Paul could contradict himself so quickly. Then I would find myself going “wait a minute, that does not make sense”. Then I would spend hours trying to figure out what I “missed”. Truth is I did not miss anything – Paul did! He just didn’t make sense and was not very clear – like a normal human being!

    Phillip –

    “Still, it is a little bit of a relief that I wasn’t alone in facing that sort of mental instability caused by grappling with the biblical accounts.”

    I completely agree. You know how much of a relief it was to find this site? When I was a Christian, going to atheist sites felt a little like going to a brothel. Coming to a site like this was a breath of fresh air. Here were people who understood me and would not just call me deluded, ignorant, and irrational for all my spiritual experiences. I was being rational – I just didn’t have the right data :)

  • 10. Josh  |  November 15, 2008 at 1:06 am

    “It is good to know you experienced the misery as well.”

    I probably should have rephrased that… I mean it is good to know that we are both not alone :) I hate for anyone to have to go through what we went through. lol, that’s what I get for trying to respond to everyone at once!

  • 11. Josh  |  November 15, 2008 at 1:19 am

    Wow I just read through this again and somewhat feel I could have “g rated” it a little more. I already cleaned it up some, but maybe it was not enough. Lol. Hope no one was offended or anything by some of the content :)

  • 12. TitforTat  |  November 15, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Josh

    Pretty serious stuff. Heres something that might make you smile.

    Definition of Rejection: You go to masturbate and your hand falls asleep. ;)

  • 13. bluelyon  |  November 15, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Josh, don’t worry about g-rating anything you write. We are all grown-ups here. No need to sugar-coat anything!

  • 14. Josh  |  November 15, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    “We are all grown-ups here. No need to sugar-coat anything!”

    Thanks guys, I was having church sharing time flashbacks, where everyone wants to talk seriously about stuff but everyone is afraid if they share what they really feel they will be judged for being impure, immodest, etc. etc.

    Such a relief to be able to say what I really think!

    “You go to masturbate and your hand falls asleep.”

    lol

  • 15. jason  |  November 16, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing that. So much of it was hard for me to read because, as I am sure you can believe, I had more or less identical experiences to you, coming from a very similar background.

    The voices. The constant frustration over vague bible verses promising the worst sort of condemnation if you continue to entertain your (rational) doubt.

    And of course, realizing just how alone you are going to be if you cross that line.

    Best of luck to you.

  • 16. Ayzie  |  November 18, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    This is an amazing story. It really hits home for me, on many different levels.

    Sidenote: “Pouring” over something is to literally pour liquid. “Poring” is being absorbed in reading something.

  • 17. Rich  |  November 18, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Wow – I can relate to a lot of the doubts about spiritual stuff, but fortunately, I was one of the fundamentalist kids that didn’t over-analyze stuff.

    I’m really looking forward to the rest of the story.

  • 18. Josh  |  November 18, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks Ayzie and Rich,

    “over-analyze”

    I’m playfully curious: is this possible?

  • 19. SnugglyBuffalo  |  November 18, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    The phrase gets applied to me often enough, usually because I’ll end up spending time analyzing something beyond the point of where it’s useful.

  • 20. Josh  |  November 19, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I don’t think its possible to over-analyze anything anymore.

    I, for one, am thankful for all the men and women in history who over-analyzed cells, bacteria, psychology, their own thinking patterns, the movements of the stars, sexuality, archaeology, philosophical ideas, logic, biblical texts, population control, geneology, The Rosetta Stone, the size of finch beaks, chimpanzee and human genomes, languages, fossils, craters on the moon, radiometric dating techniques, mathematical formulas, and the list goes on. Some of these men devoted their entire lives to analyzing one particular thing – and today we praise them for their efforts. Can I get a second on this?

    One cannot find the answer if they give up as soon as others tell them they are over-analyzing, which is, ironically, often right before an important discovery is made. Galileo, put down your scope bro!
    :)

  • 21. Rich  |  November 20, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Well, I’m not sure I made myself completely clear. I think I might have seen some of the contradictions in Christianity, but I kind of tucked it away. I do remember asking my pastor about the passage where “God hardened Pharoah’s heart” – thus condemning Pharoah to lots of bad things. In my opinion, that was kind of a dick move – but the pastor explained it away.

    In many of these de-conversion stories that I’ve been obsessively reading over the last couple of weeks, it seems that there is a common thread that runs through them, of constant worrying about whether one is saved or not, of trying *really* hard not to sin, etc. Perhaps it was that I wasn’t a terribly serious Christian. I mean, I wanted to be a good Christian, but I wasn’t about to ask other Christians for help in the struggle against lust – I was fairly happy to hang onto that.

  • 22. Josh  |  November 20, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    “mean, I wanted to be a good Christian, but I wasn’t about to ask other Christians for help in the struggle against lust – I was fairly happy to hang onto that.”

    And I truly believe this probably made you a happier person :)

    Some of us for some bizarre reason took it super seriously. Some monks would spend weeks on top of pillars, or in monestaries beating themselves over their mistakes.

    Maybe it was arrogance on my part, or an extremely “over-analytical” mind (as some would often say to me), or maybe it was just the natural outcome of my particular genetic make-up. Whatever it was, for some reason some of us actually believed all of this as if it was just as real as the words on this page or your very existence.

    Think about it this way. Parents will often admonish their kids about the importance of getting a good education, a good job, of “preparing for the future” – a future that might last less than 100 years. But why do they not “worry” about that at all, and instead focus on the future of an eternity. Suddenly preparing for college seems almost naive. If we really are going to live for eternity, screw college, screw preparing for tomorrow. Every action, every thought, everything we study or the people we interact with should all be “investing” in our future eternal reward.

    Whats 100 years compared to 1000 or 10000 or 1000000? What about eternity? If abstaining from one sexual thought could give me a boost in my heavenly reward, I was willing to do it.

    Now imagine taking it this seriously and then having a small thought that maybe you won’t make it to heaven at all and get any reward. Maybe you are just deceiving yourself this whole time and all those good works are “filthy rags” and Jesus will say “Depart from me I never knew you.” If so many people are going to stand before Jesus with confidence and be turned away, how do I know I am not one of those people? Even if this is a 1% chance that they could end up in hell, one would want to make sure all their abstinence, all their devotion, all their work, all their faith, all their self-debasement (“I beat my body to make it my slave”), all their sacrfice – was not in vain. “Do not worry about tomorrow… store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”

  • 23. SnugglyBuffalo  |  November 20, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    I would say you can over-analyze some things. If you spend 15 minutes analyzing the vehicles of all your friends to determine who is best suited to drive the group out to get pizza, you’re probably over-analyzing.

    I do agree that people get accused of over-analyzing in situations where it shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, though. It seems like it most often happens when you’re genuinely interested in further exploring a topic when everyone else just doesn’t care anymore.

  • 24. Josh  |  November 20, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Yeah, got it Snuggly :) I’m probably overreacting a little to all the people who accused me over over-thinking spiritual things.

  • [...] the dreadful years of my teens, I was confronted with a period of milder Christianity. I just ‘believed’ everything, [...]

  • 26. Ki  |  December 25, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Hey Josh, thank you for this. I feel I am in a similar situation and I am being tormented spiritually. Please finish your story soon. I want to know how you resolved it.

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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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