Those were the days of feeling the spirit while attending school-sponsored religious retreats. One was an amazing emotional roller-coaster called “The Encounter.” While there, we were peer-pressured to confess our most painful thoughts publicly, bonding with each other as we shared the darkest parts of our minds. Imagine teen boys dropping their alpha-male facades and crying as we took turns revealing emotional horrors and feelings of inadequacy. The most memorable story was that of a friend revealing his father’s descent into madness.

It was okay, though; the leaders helped rebuild us with Jesus as our support. Plus, we had games and music to lighten the mood. It was a fantastic feeling of brotherhood, being together for something so powerful. Sure, we were all hungry, because little food was provided. We were exhausted as well, because they kept us up late and woke us early. Yet, for a few days, it was worth it to experience spiritual exultation. I most certainly did not see the parallels to the tools of brainwashing . . . yet.

I found myself believing and praying while my skeptical nature rested in hibernation—not dead but not alert either. I knew that I doubted what I was taught more than most of my friends, and I definitely seemed to ask more questions. I found the answers good enough to put off probing too deeply but poor enough to sustain a lingering sense of uncertainty. My inquiries dodged the big picture and instead focused on pieces of the puzzle. I was up for tackling bizarre, obvious myths of the Old Testament, but I simply was not prepared to dig into the examination of the existence of God. Perhaps this was because my identity included sporting Jesus around my neck...continue reading.