About a year ago I was, or more correctly, I chose to accept the responsibility of becoming active in stopping aggressive proselytization in our local public schools in order to protect my stepson who is Buddhist and my children from a previous marriage who are or were to some degree Baptist or agnostic. They all attended a small rural school in Louisiana which is as the Superintendent of the local School Board pointed out, in the middle of the “Bible Belt.” This however, was not the beginning of my deconversion, a term that I don’t quite consider accurate as I had not been given the opportunity as a child to really convert to Southern Baptist in the first place, it was more an assimilation.
I had been born into a religious family. My father had been in an accident while serving in the military and had been told he would never walk again. To his credit and the credit of the doctors at that time, he did walk again. He chose to give credit to god and he dedicated his life to the ministry. My father started seminary just north of San Francisco in the early 70’s when I was around 5 or 6. After only a year, my father determined that it was too liberal in its interpretations and we moved to Dallas so he could attend Criswell Bible College, a very fundamental type school.
Over the next decade, my father obtained his graduate and post graduate degrees and pastored churches and missions across the country. I was brought up hearing and listening to my father discuss contextual variations of the early Greek text, historical accounts of the church that included real and imagined histories including the booklet “Trail of Blood”. My father’s library was full of books like Strong’s and Scofield’s works along with many other concordances and commentaries. These were books I was reading by 10 as well as discussing in church 3 to 4 times a week. By my early teens I knew more about the bible that almost every deacon at every church and could have debated it had that not been disrespectful to my elders.
By my late teens, I had been the typical PK but maybe not quite as bad as some but definitely worse than others. Still I accepted that I believed. I had questions… Oh yeah I had questions but I was too afraid to question god or the bible that I refused to allow the questions to completely congeal into solid thoughts. I remember wondering why the OT god and NT god seemed miles apart from each other in philosophies. I remember wondering why it was ok to kill children or why a Christian was to abandon their families and yet never did. I knew of many “so called” contradictions but I knew how to explain most of them away, at least to myself.
I also learned how to question other faiths and denominations critically. That was the time when the charismatic groups were overtaking Southern Baptist and there was a tremendous concern that “Satan” was corrupting “our brothers” with wild emotions. When I write this, I can’t help but feel embarrassed and ashamed. I was so happy to debate scriptures and theology. I could point out all the flaws in Catholicism, Mormonism, and 4 or 5 other denominations of Christianity. I didn’t need much work for the really odd religions like Hindu or Buddhism… they were just cults.
By my mid 20’s I had a serious confirmation bias experience. At the time, I felt it was a religious experience but have since come to understand it and myself. When I was around 25, I thought I was going to be on Forbes, Fortune and Inc within years. I had started a few businesses and had spent countless hours studying Harvard Business Review, and every other business publication and book. My business models were working well and I was growing by leaps and bounds. I remember also discussing with a friend, our basic agnosticism and I was just barely coming to terms with my superstitions. I was still active in church and event went on visitations but my questions were very much starting to take a more solid form. I remember a specific day while driving through the country side to another town close by. In my memory, I’ve reconstructed it to have as much detail as possible. I mentally did this in an attempt to add power, emotion and conviction to “my testimony”. I didn’t intentionally do it. I did it just like all the memory experts explain how the process works in the forming of false memories. On this drive, in a mental conversation, I asked or bragged to god that if he was real, prove it and take everything away. Well, in about 10 months, my wife left because I worked too much. I went into a depression and quit working to prove I didn’t work too much. This resulted in not paying my bills and I lost my car and just sold the house for a loss. One night in the middle of really feeling sorry for myself, I found myself in the back of my father’s church. During my prayers of “Oh GAWD! Why meeee?” I had the mental image of asking god to take it away. Needless to say, like a good Christian, I gave thanks for proving “himself” to me and showing meaning to my misery… What a moron??? My personal weaknesses emotionally allowed me to cling to a superstition for almost another decade.
In my mid-thirties, I had been active and been inactive several times but I still held my theology. This was when electronic versions of the bible were just coming out and they made assimilating information so much easier. The internet was still young but information was being made available by leaps and bounds. At the time, I was active in a church in CA and I had gotten into a debate about tithes and whether “first fruits” meant gross or net. Believe it or not, this is a big contention especially with people collecting tithes. I argued that it could not be gross as many businesses operated on a business model where the net is less than 10% of the gross. I decided to look it up and use my new bible software. Obviously I found out it was neither but a misapplication of numerous terms used to enrich churches. After finding that, something I had always just assumed, I wondered about other issues. I used two verses to justify my questioning; Philippians 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 5:6. Both of these verses talk about being misled by religious beliefs and the individual responsibility as well as the point that if it is even a little wrong… it’s all wrong and stay away. Wow… I decided if I had been fooled, I better not take anything for advantage and start from the beginning with verifying I had the right “word of god”.
Well, it didn’t take very long after that to realize the whole house of cards didn’t even make a full deck. I began drifting, I rarely went to any church and when I did it was at the behest of my wife at the time as she would swing hard in and out of religion and self-indulgence as many AoG’s do. I decided I would debate with anyone that wanted to but if they didn’t, I would leave them be. I didn’t try to tear anybody’s beliefs down. I figured “what’s the point” and would let all go. When I married my current wife, she was Buddhist (Mormon til 18) and had an adopted son whose biological father was Thai and had selected my wife to adopt because of her Buddhist beliefs. So I got to know Buddhism. Neither one were spiritual in the Christian sense to the Buddhist religions, they were more philosophical Buddhist as my wife would put it. They didn’t believe in any deities or supernatural events, just the basic tenets of morality. I was ok with that. The only issue was my parent’s insistence that I witness to her. ( I hadn’t told them yet.) I placated them to a degree and they really like my wife and consider her to be the sweetest and most genuine woman I have been married to. It was a very real compliment even though the bar may not have been set high.
All was well and going along fine until school began last year. My live and let live philosophy was working well. I didn’t mind if Christians were a little goofy in their pie in the sky prayers. I didn’t mind if little things were snuck into society. I figured “who cares” and “what does it really hurt.” In my mind it was just nonsense that people with emotional needs were clinging onto. Hell, that is why I had stuck around for so long.
As school began and my new stepson started class with my daughter in the 6th grade, he began throwing tantrums and trying any excuse to stay home from school. This began in the first week. We thought the change of schools was just hard. We thought the change in accents was hard. Then around the 3 or 4th day, he would get sick and my wife would pull over and let him throw up on the side of the road. At first we let him miss a day but then pushed him forward. That weekend when my daughter came back to our house we found out the teacher had been making fun of him because he was Buddhist. We found she had been inciting the other kids to harass him and call him stupid. We found out that every test ended with a statement of faith. This was a public school and I was shocked. The live and let live guy was floored! Those were not the innocent little insertions of belief I had thought they were. My blood starts to boil again when I recall it. My daughter stood up for him and she was chastised. All her friends began distancing themselves and making an outcast of her. That’s when we went to the Superintendent with our issues and found out we didn’t live in the U.S. but instead resided in the Bible Belt. They taught creationism openly. They prayed at lunch. They prayed on the loudspeaker. The principal called kids into his office, shut the door, pulled out his bible and damned kids to hell for whatever he chose to preach on. Kids left school to get away. I know families that homeschool now just to avoid religion? How often do you find that? Homeschooling so the public schools can’t teach your kids religion?
That was when I realized that I am no longer agnostic but an agnostic anti-theist atheist. It’s been a long road from true believer to true human and I’m sure I am not done yet. I’ve found over the last year that my situation is not unique, it’s not even rare. My situation is predominately the norm. At one time, I thought I knew more about the bible than most. It turns out that I know more about the bible than only most Christians.
My oldest son turned me onto Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and Dennett. In turn I’ve shared a few greats. I’ve really become a fan of Bart Ehrman and Jerry Dewitt as well as the Unholy Trinity from Texas (where it may be worse than Louisiana.) I’ve been a fan of quantum physics for years so I’ve been a major fan of Krauss, NDT and a few others. My experience and knowledge has grown exponentially from the internet. The knowledge is there. Ask the questions, search for answers and never just accept someone’s interpretation without verifying the facts.