My journey into and, later, out of Christianity (Born Again)

March 9, 2009 at 2:03 am 20 comments

Mom was folding laundry on the bed. I was pairing up socks, rolling each pair into a tight, little ball, and folding one cuff over on the outside to make a neat package.

“Don’t be disappointed,” she said, “but you won’t be getting much for Christmas this year.”

“How do you know?” I asked. It was, after all, still summer. School hadn’t even started yet. Santa couldn’t have already decided if I’d been naughty or nice.

“We don’t have as much money since Daddy left. So I won’t be able to buy a lot of presents for you.”

I looked down at the pile of laundry and dug out a match to the sock in my hand. What could that possibly mean? Had my parents been buying my Christmas presents all along?

“You already know this,” my mother said, “but please don’t tell your sister that Santa Claus isn’t real.”

Even though I was only nine, I knew I couldn’t tell my mother that I had believed in Santa right up until that moment. I didn’t want to make her sad.

The afternoon sun shone in the two bedroom windows, intensifying the color of the yellow paint on the three walls opposite the windows. The huge orange and yellow wallpaper flowers on the fourth wall were not at all out of place this time of year, and would keep the room from becoming depressing in the bone chilling winter months to come. Months that would no longer be filled with the magic of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer. I finished matching up the socks, and went into my own room to do my homework.

That Christmas Eve we went to the candlelight service at Calvary Baptist Church after we finished the traditional fish dinner that Grandma made. The sanctuary, normally plain and barren of ornament compared to Infant Jesus Catholic Church, was decked with pine boughs, wreaths, and candles.

As we walked into the church a few minutes before the service started, the organist was playing Oh Come All Ye Faithful. We sat about halfway back on the right-hand side of the sanctuary. Every pew was adorned with a wreath and a flickering candle at each end and pine bows draped along the back of the seat, tacked to the wood with red velvet bows above the pockets of Bibles and hymnals. The chandeliers were dimmed and it was dark outside. Inside, the dancing candle flames made shadows on the high ceiling and the naked, white walls.

Unlike a normal Sunday service, no-one congregated in the aisles talking. Instead we all took our seats and hummed or sang along quietly as the organist played. After a few minutes Pastor F came to the pulpit, the light from the candelabras on either side of the altar barely illuminating his face. We all stood, turned to hymn number 72 in the Baptist Hymnal and began singing. Then Pastor F read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2:2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 2:3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 2:4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 2:5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with Child. 2:6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 2:9 And, lo, the angel of the LORD came upon them, and the glory of the LORD shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the LORD. 2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 2:15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into Heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the LORD hath made known unto us. 2:16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 2:17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 2:18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 2:19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 2:20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. 2:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the Child, His Name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

After the reading, the pastor told us that Jesus was born of a virgin, died on the cross thirty-three years later, and rose again on the third day to save us from Hell. “We are all sinners,” Pastor F said, “We are all doomed to Hell and eternal damnation. But because God loves us, He sent his Son to Earth to be born, to suffer, and to die in our place.” If we would accept Jesus as our personal savior, he explained, we would go to heaven to be with God and Jesus forever when we died.

Jesus, it seemed, also knew if we were naughty or nice; but the consequences were more dire than whether I’d find an Easy Bake Oven under the Christmas tree, or a lump of dirty, black coal in my stocking in the morning.

Jesus loved us, the pastor said, and gave his life freely to save us from sin and hell. Wouldn’t anyone like to accept Jesus as their personal savior tonight, this holy night of Jesus’ birth? “If you would, get up out of your seat and come down to the altar, and pray with me now.”

I didn’t get up. I sat quietly in my seat as a few adults walked up to the front of the church to be saved. But when Pastor F had the new converts repeat the sinner’s prayer, I closed my eyes and said the words silently in my heart.

I was born again on December 24, 1971 in a middle pew on the right-hand side of the sanctuary in Calvary Baptist Church on Jayne Boulevard in Port Jefferson Station, New York, six months after I stopped believing in Santa Claus.

I didn’t tell my mother. I knew she was worried about me, sure that the christening I’d received in the Catholic church nine years before had not saved my soul. My sister was born again, too, and was baptized, dunked in the baptismal pool wearing a while robe like a tiny angel, several months later after she reached the age of reason on her seventh birthday. I wouldn’t expose myself like that, even though I was three years older. My belief in Jesus was private, like my belief in Santa had been. I didn’t cry when my parents got divorced, I didn’t shed a tear when Grandpa D died, and I didn’t publicize my conversion. No-one in the congregation at the Baptist Church had to know. Not even my mother. I felt bad that she was worried about me, but not bad enough to share the secret of my salvation.

It’s only now, decades later, as I write this that I see that I accepted Jesus the same year I discovered that Santa was not real. How could I not have seen this before? I think a few things were keeping me from seeing what happened.

First, I was a child. I believed what the adults in my world told me, even when the pieces of the puzzle didn’t quite fit together. Even when I thought I was being rebellious or creative in my thought, when I rejected Catholic dogma and was born again, I was still basically following the path set out for me by my mother. I was soaking up the messages of the pastor and my Sunday school teacher. And this is natural. Children live in a dangerous world. It is safer and healthier for them to believe what adults tell them about the perils that surround them. But eventually we have to outgrow that need and begin to understand the world for ourselves. At nine, I was not even near being ready to take this step.

Second, I had no critical thinking skills. Perhaps this is not surprising for a third grader. But even as I got older, and read about walking to the beat of a different drummer in Thoreau, I failed to realize that the drum beat I was actually following was in sync with the ones of almost everyone around me. I thought I was rebelling against secular society by following Jesus; I thought I was forging my own path; I thought I was being a non-conformist. But I was conforming so much that I barely had a thought of my own. I wouldn’t learn how to truly think critically until my thirties.

Finally, I wanted the world to be magical. I loved reading magical stories, and I wanted to believe them. Santa, and later Jesus, gave me a way to experience magic in my own life. It’s not only children who want to keep magic alive, many adults feel the same way. Evangelical Christian author Randall Balmer puts it this way:

As a person of faith, I decided years ago that I would refuse to allow the canons of Enlightenment Rationalism to be the final arbiter of truth. I elect to live in an enchanted universe where there are forces at work beyond my understanding and control — and where faith, not empiricism or complex apologetic proofs for the existence of God, serves ultimately as my guide.

For better or worse, desire is not the final arbiter of truth either. Some things are real and others are not. I wanted to believe as much as Balmer does. I wanted to live in an enchanted universe. In the end, the evidence for God just didn’t add up for me any more. Although the magic, as much as I desired it, just wasn’t real, I still find myself in a universe “where there are forces at work beyond my understanding and control.” I never chose to stop believing, but it happened anyway.

- writerdd

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Taste and See the Mystery Great News:Those With No Religion Fastest-Growing Tradition!

20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Morales  |  March 9, 2009 at 5:44 am

    I was born again on December 24, 1971 in a middle pew on the right-hand side of the sanctuary in Calvary Baptist Church on Jayne Boulevard in Port Jefferson Station, New York, six months after I stopped believing in Santa Claus.

    I find that poignant.

  • 2. The de-Convert  |  March 10, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Finally, I wanted the world to be magical. I loved reading magical stories, and I wanted to believe them. Santa, and later Jesus, gave me a way to experience magic in my own life.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that religion is a coping mechanism or a way to supposedly explain the unexplained. However, this is a very interesting reason for religion’s existence to add to the list.

    Humans do love fantasy (as evident by all the games/movies/etc.)

    Paul

  • 3. the chaplain  |  March 10, 2009 at 9:15 am

    I thought I was rebelling against secular society by following Jesus; I thought I was forging my own path; I thought I was being a non-conformist.

    This message is aimed pretty heavily at teens. It feeds into young people’s desires to be independent, rebellious, unique and counter-cultural. When one de-converts from Christianity, one starts seeing more clearly than ever before how thoroughly Christianity pervades Western culture. It’s so pervasive that it’s like a part of the pattern in the fabric – a thread or design that’s taken for granted.

  • 4. Lyndon  |  March 12, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    I’ve been listening to “For a Dream” on Tracy Chapman’s newest album, Our Bright Future. The song talks about how our dreams of how things could be help us escape the reality of how things are. The last line of the song blows me away and seems especially appropriate to your post:

    For Christmas and for New Year
    I wish and I resolve
    But I’m disappointed by myself,
    Jesus and Santa Claus
    I want to believe
    she’s been saved
    and he’s been redeemed

    And it’s alright,
    it’s alright
    for a dream.

  • 5. writerdd  |  March 13, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    wow, cool song. I will have to get that album! Love Tracy Chapman…

  • 6. A Journeyman  |  March 22, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Your story sounds alot like the stories I have heard and the one I have lived. Your comment on that Calvary Pastors blog about how CC is a denomination is very insightful. So now let me ask you if you have considered that Jesus might not care if you go to church but rather only if you believe and are willing to answer the call to live for Him? He might not think it is was right for anyone to harm you, but He might care if you understand that we all harmed Him and that you should not harm another? Am I making sense? So let me blow your mind, well maybe. A blue truck is in front of you and an old familiar song comes on the radio, and then you look to your right and there is a green mailbox. The blonde woman standing there winks at you but you don’t know if you should wink back, you remember the commandment that lust leads us away from God. The Spirit of God is God, and He has not given up on you. The church that appears to be church is not necessarily church. The church that is church is not perfect but is known by God and the members know each other and are committed to holiness because of love. May the Lord bring you into the company of saints and show you how much we must suffer for the Name and why we are willing to do it.

    Peace.

  • 7. writerdd  |  March 22, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    A Journeyman, I don’t really understand your point. I think you have me mixed up with someone else or you are just confused. I have never been to the “Calvary Pastors blog” you mentioned to post a comment, I do not know what “CC” is, and I am a heterosexual woman, so would not be lusting after a woman standing by a mailbox. The rest of your post is just confusing to me.

  • 8. Kane  |  March 23, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Journeyman: huh?

  • 9. Was I saved or brainwashed? « de-conversion  |  May 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    [...] My journey into and, later, out of Christianity (Born Again) [...]

  • 10. Change creeps in unawares « de-conversion  |  June 10, 2009 at 8:45 am

    [...] June 10, 2009 Part 4 of My journey into and, later, out of Christianity [...]

  • 11. atimetorend  |  June 10, 2009 at 9:51 am

    “This message is aimed pretty heavily at teens. It feeds into young people’s desires to be independent, rebellious, unique and counter-cultural. “

    That is a profound statement. It is a super attractive message for teens, and that pride can continue to grow in adulthood, finding significance in being different, validating that if you are opposed you must be doing the right thing for God. Scary.

  • 12. Eve's Apple  |  June 11, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Wanting the world to be magical – Jesus replacing Santa as the bringer of magic – I wonder if that is at the root of the hostility towards the Harry Potter series. It seems strange that Potter, which never claims to be anything other than fantasy, somehow strikes such a nerve in certain parts of the Christian community. Is it because they are afraid that people will start making comparisons between the two (Harry Potter and religion), and conclude that churches are peddling a form of magic that is just as effective as Potter’s made-up spells? I mean, come on now, it seems silly to take Harry Potter seriously, we all know that there is no such place as Hogwarts and no such powers as described in these books, much as we’d all like that to be true.

    If I had to choose between the two, I’d take Harry Potter, because at least there I know I am dealing with imagination. Potter doesn’t make any promises in the name of truth, doesn’t raise expectations, and then turn around and dash those hopes to the ground by making some excuse or another why the marvels we were promised–speaking in tongues, miracles, visions–are not really to be sought after. Yet churches do this with astounding regularity. If, as the nuns said, that these things are only for the favored few, then why talk about them at all? Isn’t that false advertising?

  • 13. writerdd  |  June 11, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I personally think they don’t like Harry Potter because they think witchcraft is a real, supernatural evil. I used to believe that anyway.

  • 14. Joe  |  June 12, 2009 at 11:53 am

    The hostility against Harry Potter is only a “fringe” group of Christians. These might be the same ones who feel good about donating money so some televangelist can get a second lear jet.

    I’m a Christian and I love the Harry Potter movies. I have never taken the time to read one of the books—but I love the movies. Who are we without our imaginations? I personally think that anyone who wants to take away the imagination of a child is a total idiot. And that goes for those who would keep their kids from viewing or reading Harry Potter because the characters are wizards and witches.

    There is also a “fringe” in the opposite direction too. There are those so obsessed with “proving” that only material things exist that they prohibit their children from believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. They tell their children there are no such things as fairies or elves too. To me, that is just as idiot as a Christian lunatic fringe afraid of anything that might border on the “occultic” in their minds.

  • 15. Joe  |  June 12, 2009 at 11:58 am

    What I mean in #14 is that children “deserve” to have wonder and dreams when children. They should enjoy a period in their lives where fairies and elves just might be real. This helps them develop their imagination, a sense of humor, and a wonder about life itself. Granted, I would not want my children reading “The Satanic Bible” until they were old enough to really understand it—
    and decide for themselves what they want to believe–but Harry Potter, the Narnia Chronicles (full of witches and imaginary characters) and other books never hurt a child–on the contrary, they help them develop a healthy imagination, which is a good thing.

  • 16. Dealing with Doubt « de-conversion  |  September 11, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    [...] It was my sister’s turn to ride in the front seat, so I climbed into the back. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, but that wasn’t unusual, so I sat quietly as mom backed the station wagon out of the driveway. [...]

  • 17. seek and ye shall find…. but what? « de-conversion  |  September 26, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    [...] 26, 2009 I’ve been reading the comments here lately and I have noticed that a lot of Christian readers [...]

  • 18. Anonymous  |  May 12, 2012 at 8:43 am

    FUCK OFF YOU RELIGIOUS CREEPS

  • 19. OpenMinded  |  May 19, 2012 at 1:22 am

    my younger sister has been brainwashed into being baptised and has completely lost who she was before. The more and more i hear her talk about her new found religion it is sounds more and more like some kind of cult! Our mother believed that we were to choose our own religion once old enough to understand what it actually meant. My sister had no interest in it until the passing of my catholic father and has now been baptised as a born again christian with no thought other than her friend from worked who glorified it for her and put her in a corner to be baptised! As with all religion god forgives and forgets? As for the burning in hell if you don’t abide by gods wishes, my belief is that hell is on earth! My question is how do i get her to understand or get her out of this as she is now beginning to have doubts and regrets, she refer’s to this as the devil trying to keep hold of her! i fear she will detach from her family for the needs of her “cult” and lose everything he has ever known before! We are as understanding of her and supportive as much as we can but I can see how unhappy she is becoming but she is so brainwashed and scared of will happen to her soul if she stops worshiping or sins?

    HELP US!!!! what can i do? are there any good de-conversion stories i can get her to read??????????

    To make it clear i am not against religion at all everyone is entitled to his or her beliefs but when it comes to my situate i want my sister back!!!

  • 20. ubi dubium  |  May 20, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    OpenMinded,

    Go to Exchristian.net. It’s a really active website, compared to deconversion, which has mostly gone dormant. Tons of stories there, discussion forums, and lots of deconverts to talk to. You may find some who have been in your situation who can help you with this.

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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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