I grew up in a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian household in the American South. Church was mandatory to say the least. If I so much as slipped out to go use the bathroom during the sermon it would not go unnoticed. It didn’t help much that my stepfather was the pastor. I was taught every precept of this form of ultraconservative Southern Baptist Christianity from the time I could crawl and became a “born again” believer at an early age. I was taught that Evolution was a creation of the Devil and that the scientists that purported it were doing the Devil’s work. I was taught that any sexual urges I have are unnatural and should be (quiet literally) prayed away. I was taught that life outside the Church was an amoral den of sin and iniquity. That children my age were slicing each other up with razor blades for fun because of our Godless society. Alcohol, pornography, pre-marital sex, condoms, and a slew of other things were strictly forbidden. It turns out that the wine that Jesus drank was magically different somehow, rendering it with little to no alcohol. It’s almost funny now that I was actually taught this stuff. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists were apostates worshipping false idols.
And I believed it with my whole heart. And I loved Jesus even more for saving me from myself, lest I become like those other Godless people.
I grew up. I did Mission Trips, helping poor lost souls in disadvantaged parts of the world several times over. I professed my love for Jesus openly. I read my Bible daily, and couldn’t sleep without praying and begging for my sins to be forgiven. Living in a small rural town everything revolves around church. The entire social scene. Church members married one another, went fishing, or watched football together. There was no life outside the church. And good thing too. Because if there is one thing EVERYONE should be concerned about it is there eternal soul.
My first experience with anything secular came about in my 10th grade Physical Science class. The teacher, educated at Berkeley during the 1970’s, began a lecture about National Selection, as he was mandated and compelled to do. Several students flew up, cursing and screaming and spitting before promptly walking out. I stayed. I’ve always been a bookworm, and I wanted to hear the other side of the story. Or maybe I stayed because it was so forbidden. It piqued my interest. I actually went to the library and got a copy of On the Origin of Species and read it in secret. And here’s the problem with that. It made sense. I began to expose myself to outside influences in secret, reading the Qur’an, Hindu Vedas, A Brief History of Time, and other literature. I either hid it or quite frankly it was so far above my parents head they did not notice.
I slowly started to shed away what I had been taught all of my life. I even studied the historicity of Christianity and Jesus himself. The moment I left for college at 18 I knew that I would never again live under my parent’s roof or attend church. Over time and much soul searching I realized that just as I thought the stories of Thor and Zeus and Vishnu were not real, so too were the stories I was taught not real. It is the simplest, most logical answer. A form of tribalism with a dash of superstition. There is no evidence for the Ark, the flood, the exile in Egypt, nor the exodus from it. No record whatsoever for the Egyptians even having Hebrew slaves. No evidence of heaven or hell in any form. Just none. No evidence that Jesus preformed miracles. It was all about as real as Vishnu coming to Earth as Krishna or as Buddha being reincarnated as the Dali Lama.
It was arduous to come to this realization to say the least. After ten years of soul searching and doubting myself and thinking and reading and meditating and talking and yes even praying for God’s answer did I come to this realization. First of all I am not angry. That is the first misconception about atheists among Evangelicals. Secondly I don’t hate God. I just don’t. That’s the second thing Evangelicals believe about atheists.
To tell you the truth I’ve never been happier. Imagine all your life you had been told that your basic nature was wicked or evil and that you had to fight it or rick hellfire for eternity and then to realize as a grown man that it’s Ok to just be whom you are. You weren’t born with “sin”. You are just another person existing on a rock in space with people just like you with wants, needs, dreams, and desires. I no longer even fear death. The days when I worried whether my next action would result in eternal damnation are gone. Our lives are finite, and it’s that all the more reason to enjoy every moment you have here and now?
Today I am free from the bondage of religion and it is absolutely wonderful.
I’m writing this not for myself however. The American South can be a lonely place for people like me. To openly shun religion, or to even question it, is tantamount to becoming a social pariah. I hope someone reads this. Maybe they are in the next town or county or even state. Perhaps they are struggling with the same fears or questions I did. Or maybe they live a lie for fear of being ostracized by their family or community. You are not alone. I know it feels like it. But you’re not. And believe it or not, everything is going to be alright.