The de-conversion journey of a Christian musician
My story isn’t strange—born into a Christian home, raised into a Christian lifestyle and led a faithful Christian life as an adult. I was a missionary for six years, both living overseas and operating from a stateside base from which to travel. I worked as an assistant pastor/worship leader and youth pastor. I had always wanted to be a professional musician and opportunities arose which allowed me to pursue that dream as a member of a Christian band that saw a decent amount of success, both in the Christian music industry and the mainstream industry as well. Funny, at least one other de-convert here actually has one of my albums. Ah, irony.
As a teenager I left my Southern Baptist upbringing to follow a more charismatic faith. Later in life I left the protestant faith altogether and converted to Catholicism, having come to the studied conclusion that it was the most historically accurate iteration of Jesus’ and his disciples’ teachings. Throughout all of my transitions, however, I remained faithful to the core of Christianity. Yet I remember, on a few occasions, allowing doubt to surface.
What about people who are born into other religions? Would God punish them eternally in Hell for being born in a country where the social landscape was dominated by a different (read: false) religion? Regarding creation, I had always leaned towards theistic evolution, which was only inches away from pure evolution. At what point were humans given the “breath of life” and acquired souls? How did that evolve? Or were we plopped fully formed into an already evolving environment?
I asked a friend once ‘how could we know that any of this is real?’ My friend, who was educated in theology and philosophy wisely responded, “We can’t.” It was simply a belief that in the end we chose to believe out of desire and faith. He chose to adhere to the belief that the Christian god exists because otherwise he would fall into despair and debauchery, insisting that morality has always been the property of religion (poppycock!). While this somewhat diminished my perception of my long-time friend my faith and desire persisted. I continued to follow the path of Jesus.
Around this same time I had a child. My wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy– ten fingers and ten toes and apparently both strong and stubborn since he had the nerve to remove an iv tube that doctors had inserted to get his iron leveled out. He developed normally, despite an early sinus infection, and was a happy, vibrant child. But at around one and a half years we began to notice that things weren’t necessarily as they should be–reduced eye contact, lagging language and lack of response to social cues that most babies his age had long since mastered. A year later, it was confirmed and diagnosed as autism.
I was working at a church at the time and was beginning to ask more questions about the source of their theology which brought up questions regarding theology at large. I started gobbling up every reputable church history book I could get my hands on and the more I read, the more I became convinced that the Catholic church had existed long before it had become the “Roman” Catholic church and that the basic infrastructure was the solid core of early Christianity, adapted from Judaism. Every other type of Christianity had branched off from the Catholic roots to become a diminished and weakened (in my opinion at the time) sect. I set about to quit my job as assistant pastor and worship leader to be confirmed into the Catholic Church.
As one would imagine, this didn’t go over to well with my employers. It was especially so since the Holy Spirit himself had given the pastor a verse-by-verse interpretation (his words, I kid you not) of the entire bible. And to make matters worse the pastor was my wife’s uncle. I was immediately dismissed and completely cut off socially. No one at the church would talk to me save the pastor who antagonized me through vicious hate emails for months on end. He never engaged me in person or even on the phone despite my requests for personal conversation. I was never rude and never made such claims as ‘The Catholic Church is the only true church” or any such nonsense. I tried to stay out of conversations centering on my choice. Nevertheless, my friends dismissed me, even to the point that I was labeled as a demoniac sent to sow dissension among the faithful. Still, I remained a faithful follower of Jesus, convinced that I was doing the right thing.
So I played in my band, which was becoming more and more lucrative as the months progressed. And I went to church. And I prayed for a miracle for my son, who was getting worse. The tantrums were getting more violent. He was becoming self-injurious to the point that we were frightened that any day we would get a call from CPS. I spent hours in prayer. I fasted. We were also going to doctors and trying different treatments and searching for the cure that we were certain God would lead us to. Well, we still haven’t found it. And God never performed the miracle we prayed for and our families prayed for and their churches prayed for. It was at this point that I started to get angry.
I began to challenge God. I cursed at him and I think I even went as far as to spit on a cross hanging on the wall. I wanted some kind of reaction. Any kind of reaction. If God would not heal my son, the way he healed the sons of pleading fathers in the bible, then perhaps he would at least have the decency to respond to a desperate challenge to his authority and existence. If I had the certainty of God’s existence, then I could develop a framework to support the struggles and suffering of my son and myself. I wanted desperately for God to exist. And not only exist, but to be present. To be the God I loved and was taught loved me and had mercy on the needy. But there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. I prayed for a sign. I pleaded to God for reassurance, that somehow he would communicate to me in an unmistakable way his existence and fatherly love for me, my wife and our unfortunate son. Nothing. No warm, spiritual embrace. No rebuke of my outbursts. Nothing.
As an aside, believers commonly state their knowledgeable opinion that atheists really don’t disbelieve—rather, they don’t like the idea of being held accountable to a higher authority so they’re just in rebellion. At least for myself, this could not be further from the truth! I loved God. I desperately wanted God! I wanted to know that my life’s pursuits had not been futile. I wanted to be accountable and know that God was there watching me and protecting me.
Somewhere during this period I began to shed the weight of faith. I’m not sure of the day that I ‘became an atheist’. I was unable to attend church for two reasons. My son was just too loud and distracting to bring into a service and most Catholic churches simply don’t have childcare during the service. Second, I was traveling so much with the band that I was never in a place to attend church. I was usually setting up for the show that evening or traveling to a new city.
This is where most Christians would begin to claim that I was just not strong enough to deal with my adversities. Or God is just trying to teach me something—which would imply of God that he is requiring my son to live in mental and physical torment until I learn some undisclosed lesson. Or my personal favorite, “God gives special children to special parents,” ignorantly implying that God has a cache of severely disabled souls in heaven that he’s waiting to give as children to unsuspecting parents who he deems “special” enough. Perhaps God was mistaken and I’m not as “special” as he thought.
I talked with my brother about the doubts and struggles. He listened and sympathized and we shed tears together. He gave me the only advice he could. He said that I should start going to Mass again and that my faith would return. I really wish it were that easy. I tried so many times, desperately seeking the God I wanted so badly to believe in, kneeling and crying in the chapel before the image of the crucified Jesus. I prayed the prayer of the father with the sick child in Mark, “I believe, help my unbelief”. Needless to say, my unbelief was never ‘helped’ unless it was helped to grow from a lack of response.
I began to wonder if I could still consider myself a Christian. I placed it in God’s hands—needing to believe that when I died if there indeed was a God I would throw myself upon his unfailing mercy because of my weakness and inability to understand what others could. I remember finally concluding that I was no longer a Christian. I was agnostic. Perhaps I was a Universalist. But I no longer believed in the strict limits of Christian salvation.
From there it was a fairly short jump via the already fertile channels of evolution and science to concluding that there is no god at all. And I’m fine with that. I don’t need a ‘first cause’ to believe in so that I can feel significant. I don’t need a creator to give me a divine purpose. I believe I have an earthly purpose and that it is mine to choose. I no longer need the promise of escaping this life to heaven. I believe that we have the opportunity to make our world a better place and that is far more beneficial than chasing after ‘eternal rewards’ in an afterlife while our fellow humans suffer. I believe that humans have inherited and developed the wonderful traits, reason and empathy, and that they are the two most powerful forces in the universe. I believe that with those two superpowers we can overcome all injustice, hatred, poverty and waste; without the guilt, sadness and repression of the doctrine of sin; without the fear of judgment and eternal punishment by a vengeful and jealous god; and (thank you, Douglas Adams) no one would have to get nailed to anything.
(crossposted from deconversion.org)