Hey Brothers and Sisters, I'm Ready to Testify!

(Via Brother Richard)

I pretty much grew up a "heathen." My Mother was raised Catholic so occasionally we would attend Midnight Mass at Christmastime, and my Father was raised Methodist, so we went to a few Easter Sunrise Services. Other than that, I only walked into churches for weddings, funerals, and every once in a while, one of my cousin’s First Communion.

I had an extreme "born again" religious conversion as a teenager. I had run away from home and was somewhat manically depressed. (although never diagnosed). On my return home, I found God—like many people do—watching religious television. Make no mistake; it was very much a “real” experience. I physically felt a change, and it saturated my entire life. I became one of those annoying Christians who passed out salvation tracks on the streets. I started going to a Charismatic (tongue speaking) church and immediately felt the call to prepare for ministry.

When I graduated High School, I enrolled in a Bible College that was run by a 12,000 member mega-church. While I attended school, I met just about every televangelist (Jim and Tammy Bakker, Oral and Richard Roberts, Pat Robertson, Robert Tilton, Jimmy Swaggart, etc.). Looking back, I think I was “Forrest Gump” of religion.

Not long after I graduated, I began doing God’s work. A couple years later, I found myself in a church surrounded in controversy. Several of the pastors were caught up in sexual scandals. There were lawsuits and news reports almost daily, and Sally Jessie Raphael, Inside Edition, and Larry King dedicated entire episodes to our predicament. I stuck by the ministers through the hard times and didn’t leave the church until I stumbled upon what I felt was money mismanagement. I could no longer condone this ministry by remaining in leadership. My wife, newborn daughter, and I, walked away and had to start a new life.

Over the next few years, I attended a handful of churches and continued to study the Bible. I slowly evolved into what I now know is a deist. I wouldn’t even consider—not believing—my personal experiences were very real, and I was scared to go to Hell. So I kept God in a little box at the back of my mind and went on with life.

About two years ago, I decided to rededicate myself to the study of the Bible and Theology. This time, however, I would do so without any preconceived beliefs or theological presuppositions. Surely, I thought, if God was real and the Bible was His Word, they both would stand up to reason, doubt, and logic.

It was not a pleasant experience. I was shocked to find out how many contradictions were in the Bible and how much it had changed over the centuries. I didn’t allow these revelations to change my mind about God, but, I did allow myself to let go of the idea that the Bible was inerrant.

Next I decided to study the Creationism vs. Evolution debate. I had always been a strong believer in evolution, and simply thought that we didn’t understand Scripture. I was amazed to discover that there really was no controversy; Creationism and Intelligent Design were not scientific theories at all. They were so bad they were not even wrong. The entirety of their argument was irreducible complexity, which says that some things are so complex that it is impossible they could have evolved. That’s it; end of discussion. Creationists spend the rest of their time focusing on unresolved evolutionary components and inserting God as the explanation.

The final nail in my “faith coffin” was the last Creationist book I read. The author after hundreds of pages, made one last desperate plea for believers not to be tempted by evolution. His argument went something like this:

“There are many Christians who wrongly accept evolution and are not aware that it is in direct conflict with the basic tenants of their faith. Christianity teaches us that all death and suffering entered the world when Adam sinned. If man evolved, then by definition, his predecessors lived and died. I ask you, if sin did not cause death and suffering, why do we need Jesus? The Bible is very clear, just as sin came into the world through one man, Adam; salvation came into the world by the second Adam, Jesus.”

The author’s words terrified me. He was right; I couldn’t have it both ways. With those words—which I’m sure he prayed over—knocked me into non-belief. It was like blinders had been removed from my eyes. Suddenly, I realized that it was just as easy to believe that the Universe (in some form) had always existed as it was to believe that God had always existed.

It wasn’t until I read Dawkin’s book "The God Delusion," that I accepted the fact that I was an atheist. All the books that followed helped solidify my beliefs and gave me the courage to "come out of the religious closet."

Being a former minister, I immediately realized a great lacking in the non-believing community. When we had our first daughter, young families from our church brought meals to us every night for two weeks. When a brother or sister in Christ needed help moving, we were there. If one of us ended up in the hospital, we visited them and gave support to their family. It was wonderful. I am convinced the church pews are full every Sunday with individuals that are there only because of the friendships and structure it gives their families.

Science teaches us that the need for rituals and inspiration are an important part of our evolution. However, when believers give up their religious superstitions, often they don't have anything to put in its place. I don't think this needs to be the case. Why can’t we find inspiration in music, art, literature, and the beauty of the Universe? Why shouldn’t we honor traditions and celebrate holidays without the irrational beliefs? Why can’t we teach our children morals with stories and parables (even from the Bible) without teaching absurdities? And most of all, why can’t we enjoy the benefits of community with like-minded individuals? As the old saying goes, "We don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water."

My wife and I feel that this is our new “calling.” If you live in the Atlanta area, help spread the word and let's get active. If you live elsewhere, contact us and we can try to help you establish community in your area. If you already attend a similar group, tell us about it. We can all work together with common cause.

If you need an officiant for any traditional event and you want it religion free, I’m available. I have been ordained secularly and would love to help out. I am also available for speaking engagements and debates.

Finally, let me encourage you to come out of the atheist closet. Many of us have been blogging that being an atheist today is like being gay in the 80s. All joking aside, it is true. It is time for us to not be ashamed and to let our family and friends know the truth. We can't let our society fall back into another Dark Ages. Spread the word. Contact your representatives. Write letters to newspapers and comment online. If you have a blog or web page, I ask that you provide a link to our site. We have provided various buttons on our site. I provide on my site and do the same for the others you enjoy.

Thanks for letting me ramble.


kt said...

I used to be a big church-goer during middle school and high school. I was raised in a "christian" family, though we never attended services until about 4th grade, and I never really thought about it until that point. Church was something other people did, although my parents had read me bible stories and I understood that I was "Christian".

After my sophomore year in high school, I realized that what I loved about spending so much time at the youth group at church wasn't for the bible studies, and that lots of the beliefs they held made very little sense logically. I went to a very liberal church, thankfully, and they never impressed rigid beliefs, despite being Lutheran.

I now know that what I loved so much about going to church so often was having my friends there, and the community of people that were always there and always cared about you and your family. I don't attend church anymore, but I still crave going back, if only for the socialization after the services.

James F. said...

Wow, just...wow. What a story, man. I think that one's greatest acheivement (aside from helping his or her fellow humans) is to be inspired by the natural world and the works that humanity has created. Through this,they can better themselves, and create new, greater works and discover as much as humanly possible about anything.