Thank you for your contributions to reason and understanding. I suppose I never truly "believed" but I never would have admitted that to myself or anyone else until recently. Your writing and work have inspired me to do so.
I was born into the Baptist tradition. My Grandfather was a fundamentalist pastor up until the point he could no longer do so because of age. I was raised through the church to fear science and intelligence. I was taught to never question the bible, that anyone who didn't believe it was the word of God or that JC was his son, would literally spend eternity in hell. That fate did not only apply to non-christians. If you were Catholic, Mormon, Seventh-Day Aadventist, Church of Christ, etc. . . you were bound to the same fate. How irrational is that line of thinking?
I remember saying prayers as a child before bed but they were never praiseworthy. They were laced with fear. Fear that the thoughts and actions of a growing, confused boy would cause his family members to die or get ill. My prayer was literally the same for as long as I can remember. It was a laundry list to protect the people I loved and forgive me of all of my sins. I even had to face up in bed. Being turned sideways or face down would be disrepectful.
Still, I always had doubts and questions. The idea of God sending people to hell for eternity didn't make sense. Why would anyone deserve that? It would have made more since (slightly) if it was simply a good vs. evil argument. But even that was never the argument.
I stopped going to church when I left home for college. I still clung to the old fears and prayers but that did not stop me from experiencing college life. I just had to pray a bit more. I also started reading the bible for the first time in my life but I did not grow in christ. I never witnessed. I felt ashamed and confused when JC was brought up in debate or argument. I never prayed in public and feared doing so.
About four years ago my wife got pregnant. She was raised a Methodist. She is full of spirituality but without the dogma. She believes is God, even a personal God but not the one I was raised with.
We decided that joining a church was the right thing to do with a baby on the way. I thought a more liberal and open-minded congregation might be what I lacked. I even became the Treasurer eventually, giving away up to 6 hours a week of my personal time. My newborn daughter was baptised in front of all of my family (Baptist) who were extremely skeptical of infant baptism and the United Methodist Church.
The fears I once had slowly began to subside but some things did not change. I played the part for several years. Sitting in the pew on Sunday and working as Treasurer several times a week. Every month we had a meeting of the Finance Committee. Church receipts continued to dwindle as did attendance. Then this bastion of religious moderation decided to do something that quite frankly tipped the scale for my family. They decided to join a group called the confessing movement, which is essentially a group concerned with the literal interpretation of the bible as practiced by John Wesley with particular emphasis on the issue of homosexuality within the church.
They will deny that the homosexual aspect is emphasized. These groups are currently engaging with and recruiting from parts of Africa that are religiously fundamental and extremely vulnerable. This is their attempt to gain an edge over the more liberal majority of UMC Bishops and academics. Their battle call is to take back the UMC from the forces of liberals and secular humanists found throughout the church. The movements claim is that the more liberal the church becomes, attendance, donations and enthusiasm begin to dwindle. I didn't agree before but now I do. Religious moderation is a very weak pot of coffee and most moderates know they are being dishonest with themselves. The growing congregations are almost always quite evangelical and conservative.
We stopped going. For a while, out of obligation, I even continued working as Treasurer. Then, one day my wife said something to me that was quite profound. She said she was angry with God. Angry for the suffering she had to deal with as a child. Angry for what our older daughter has had to overcome. Angry for so many other reasons. But she was primarily angry that there was not a sufficient answer to one simple question. Why does god allow evil to exist? Why is evil and suffering so random? Why do bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Certainly a good and just God would allow this type of suffering. We talked to our pastor and got the typical "free will" answer.
So we stopped going. Then, one day at the book store I picked up Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. I was astounded at how little I knew about Science. I was even more astounded at how fascinated I was by it. One thing led to another and I picked up The God Delusion, found this website and started reading the works of other prominent atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc....
After a while I allowed myself to let it go. All of it. I'm free!
I told my wife (she's the only one so far) and she is totally supportive. She still believes in a higher power and that is fine with me as well. Needless to say I am extremely excited about my new found lack of faith in myth and superstition. So excited in fact that I am studying to become a Teacher, a Science teacher.
My goal is to fight the good fight and properly educate American kids in the Sciences. I want to educate and inspire them in ways I was not. I want to be on the front lines when everything changes in the U.S. I know it will.