This is a blog for the atheist, agnostic, non-religious freethinker. I live in West Bend, WI which is home to some of the most irrational thinkers in the state of Wisconsin. Prior to moving here two years ago I was a fundamentalist evangelical Christian who had become cynical and jaded at seeing the increasing harshness, lack of compassion and simple irrationality of conservative Christianity. When I moved here and witnessed the abrasive actions of people that I considered to be like minded conservative Christians, they caused me to re-examine just what it was that I had dedicated the last thirty of years of my life to.
This blog will be my open journal describing my personal journey from Fundamentalist to atheist. Over the ensuing posts I will describe what I used to believe and why I turned my back on it all. I am not an expert in philosophy, science, history, politics, law, etc. I make no claims to have perfect, grammar, spelling or that all of my arguments will be paragons of sound logic. I am just beginning my journey away from religion and still trying to rethink alot of things and figure out what it is that I do stand for now.
I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and had my “born again” experience when I was seven years old. I wanted to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior because I was afraid of dying and going to Hell. My fear stemmed from what I was seeing on the news about the potential for nuclear war with Russia. The movie “The Day After” had just been shown on television and it was all over the news. So it was fear as a little child that began my life as a Christian.
As I grew up, my family attended church every Sunday morning and evening and on Wednesday nights. When I was 13 I got involved in my church’s youth group. I remember being intimidated by the other teens in the group. They seemed to be so much more spiritual than I was and knew so much more about the Bible than I did. So over the next few years I studiously read my Bible, attended Bible studies, had my quiet times with God, memorized scripture, stayed away from sex, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, didn’t swear, and was an all around good Christian.
I was a firm biblical literalist. I firmly believed in the six-day creation of the universe, that the earth was only 6,000 years old, that homosexuals were going to hell and atheists were demons incarnate. In high school I wrote a paper for a college prep English class titled “Evolution: Fact or Fiction”. I took the position that it was a fiction perpetrated by secular humanists to undermine the foundations of the Bible and to destroy belief in God.
After high school I left the church of my childhood and went to another Southern Baptist church that was starting up in a nearby city. There I became its associate/youth pastor. I preached sermons on the evil of modern man’s wisdom, the filth of television and movies and the vital importance of living our lives based solely on the literal truth of the Bible. Through the years I attended several other churches and in each one of them I became a leader entrusted with teaching and preaching. So just like the apostle Paul bragging about his life as a Jew in Philippians, I can just as easily brag about my life as a fundamentalist Christian.
Interestingly enough, I think my newfound atheism is directly related to my biblical literalism and the need to justify everything with scripture. If the Bible didn’t teach it, then I didn’t believe it. As a result, I took a fairly intellectual approach to my faith. I studied commentaries, read everything I could get my hands on that dealt with apologetics, creation versus evolution and the authority of the Bible.
A turning point in my life was during my first year in college. Just a few weeks into my first semester I initiated a debate in class about creation and evolution with one of my professors. Leading up to this I had become fascinated with the debate. A young couple in my church was hosting a video series produced by the Institute for Creation Research and featured Ken Ham and Gary Parker. I was enthralled. I had always loved science and had plans to go into a scientific field of study. Now I found “scientists” who believed as I did and they had “scientific proof” that the Bible is true. So I ate up books by Henry Morris, Duane Gish, Ken Ham and others. Just a week before my class debate I attended a Back to Genesis seminar put on by Ken Ham and John Morris. I left that seminar wondering how anyone could be so blind as to believe evolution.
I marched back into my class armed with what I thought were ironclad proofs for biblical creation. My professor had a Ph.D. in mathematics and was an atheist. Needless to say he chewed me up and spit me out. I put forward the best arguments from the Institute for Creation Research and he slapped them down without a second thought. I was humiliated and for the first time began to have doubts about what I believed and began to have doubts about the people who taught me what I believed. But more importantly, it made go back and really research what I believed so that I could have clear articulate arguments when in another debate. I threw out the weak arguments for creation and searched for better ones. It was this desire to have rational, sound arguments for Christianity that began the slow chipping away of my fundamentalism, a process that took almost 20 years.
So how could a person totally committed to biblical literalism end up an atheist? When you believe that, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”, and you apply that to your entire world view, you believe there is a biblical explanation for everything. Good, evil, natural disasters, happiness, depression, illness, prosperity, poverty, etc. all can be explained with the Bible. The problem is the Bible doesn’t always seem to fit the way things are. What I was learning in my Bible studies and what I was seeing in life didn’t mesh. That bothered me but for a long time all I had to do was go to my favorite Christian apologists, people like Hank Hanegraff, John MacArthur, Josh McDowell, and Ken Ham, and they would provide me with an explanation that ironed everything out. Or so I thought.
I continued to run into intellectual problems. Those guys,( yes guys, because in my faith tradition women were not permitted to teach or have authority over a man (1 timothy 2:12)) didn’t even agree among themselves. I believed the Bible was the only objective measure of truth that we could rely on. What I was finding was the Bible was anything but objective. I became frustrated with all the different steps, methods and principles that were being advanced that would give you the ability to experience the abundant life that Jesus had promised. So many Christian teachers and authors had so many different ideas on how to accomplish this that I slowly began to wonder if it is possible to know anything for certain. One person would say that we need to follow seven steps in casting out the demonic oppression that we had allowed in to our life, another would say that we just need to claim the promises of God and he would give us all that we ask for, speak in tongues and then you will be free, memorize scripture and have a daily quiet time with God, preferably in the morning because then your day would go better. It goes on and on, and all of these people were basing their ideas on the Bible and many of these ideas were in direction conflict with one another.
It got worse when you looked at other areas of theology. Are you pre-tribulation rapture, post-trib, mid-trib or no rapture at all? Do you believe that Jesus will return and set up his kingdom on earth and rule for a thousand years and then Satan will be loosed one last time, as a good premilenial dispensationalist would or are you an amilenial heretic? Do you believe that God still performs healing miracles or do you believe those miracles were only for the time Jesus was on earth? Speaking in tongues, words of knowledge, being slain in the spirit, holy laughter were and are major areas of dispute in Christianity today.
It became increasingly obvious to me that the Bible just couldn’t be relied upon for all of life. I found that the explanations and arguments for biblical literalism were becoming harder to believe. They involved a large amount of speculation and inferences that just weren’t in the text. My doubts continued to grow.
By the time my family and I arrived in West Bend I had grown quite cynical and jaded by the hypocrisy, the growing militancy of the Christian Right and the overall lack of integrity and consistency displayed by so many people I knew, and by myself, that I was ready to give up on going to church. I figured I would just pursue my relationship with God in my own way. But, I kept going to church with my family because that is what Christians are supposed to do. We ended up at a church called Community Church in West Bend, WI. I hated it. I was tired of going to church on Sunday mornings and pretending that everything was all right and knowing that most of the people there were doing the same. Those of you who attend church regularly know what I am talking about. You arrive Sunday morning after the mad rush to get everybody ready to go. Maybe you had an argument or two with your spouse or kids to hurry them up so you won’t be late. You walk through the front doors and smile kindly to the greeter/usher as he or she asks you how you are doing. You say “Good, and you?” or maybe some version of “Great, Praise God” even though work has you stressed out, you’ve lost your temper with your kids a couple times during the week and you and your wife are having an ongoing argument with about any number of things.
Regardless, I kept going week after week. After all, there isn’t a church in America where at least a small number of the congregation act like they have everything together even when they don’t. So things were going well. I had met some nice people and made some friends and was starting to feel more comfortable there. I still had all my doubts and frustrations about the Bible but I just couldn’t bring myself to give it up just yet. When the fear of hell has been instilled inside you since you can remember, it can be very hard to give up your religious beliefs. Anyway, I had made friends and that was nice, so church for me became a social outing.
Then Ginny Maziarka began her crusade against the school district’s harassment policy because it included sexual orientation as a protected class. I was appalled at the militancy and aggressiveness of her remarks to the school board and her posts on her blog, WISSUP. Keep in mind, at this time I had not given up my religious beliefs completely. A large part of me still though homosexuality was sinful. I was appalled at the lack of respect and compassion and the overall rudeness of her remarks and those of her followers. And I was embarrassed to be going to the same church she was.
I had been growing more and more frustrated with the Christian Right over the years prior to moving to West Bend. I had listened to VCY America, Phyllis Schlafly, Matt Staver, Jay Sekulow, James Dobson et. al and found it harder and harder to reconcile their tone, tactics and rudeness with what I believed the New Testament taught about Christian Living. Now I was seeing firsthand the fruit of their labor in the person of Ginny Maziarka. I attended several of the board meetings where she and her supporters spoke. I remember one meeting in which a young gay student attended and I saw how Ginny’s comments and those of her supporters had left in her tears. That was an eye-opening experience for me and I decided it was time to come to a decision about what I believed and why.
To make a long story short I began reading church history to find out where I everything I believed came from. The political battles between the early Christians and how willy-nilly the Bible came together in its present form. The Crusades and the atrocities the Crusaders committed in Christ’s name, the inquisitions, the witch hunts, the racism, the support of slavery, all began to weigh heavily on me. I finally gave it all up after reading Bart Ehrman’s book “Jesus, interrupted” (which I’ll talk about more in later posts). I felt liberated. I felt free to enjoy this life and the things that it has to offer. Science once again became fascinating. It was no longer an evil institution run by secularists who were out to destroy my faith. Now it was fascinating and beautiful and something I could enjoy. I finally felt that life made sense.