ExChristianDotNet (exchristian_net) wrote in extian,

[Testimonies of Ex-Christians] I can no longer force my heart to follow what ...

Sent in by Chip SI was not raised in a Christian home. My parents had
not made a conscious decision for atheism, I suppose. But their daily
lives and lack of religious practice certainly would label them as
non-Christians. They were always in that ambiguous category of people
who simply had no time for theism or atheism. It was simply a
non-issue.For a whole I attended church with a friend, in elementary
school. Of course I didn't comprehend enough to understand what was
being taught, let alone make a decision to subscribe to the beliefs
advocated by that church. But I did learn enough to remember certain
things... John 3:16, the claim that Jesus was God, etc. I had this
vague understanding of the person called Savior.It was in middle
school, which I now quaintly think of as the “Dark Ages” of my life
that social awkwardness and intense depression led me on a search for
more. Perhaps it was not as conscious of a search as I would now
imagine, but a search nonetheless. I found an old family bible
gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. I’ve always loved books, and to
find a book in our house was rare. So of course, I read it.My
adolescent mind was floored. From the battle scenes of Joshua to keep
me entertained to the eternal life-giving promises of Jesus, I was
caught up in the promises of this Bible. I supplemented my knowledge of
the Bible with videos from the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The text
itself plus the constant cries for conversion from the hosts of the
channel led me to a conversion experience without stepping into a
church.I was immediately enthusiastic about this idea of Christianity.
I demanded that family members begin dropping me off Sunday mornings at
the local Methodist church which continued to send us monthly
newsletters even though no one had attended in my earliest
recollection. Of course, the calm atmosphere of the Methodist church
would not fulfill my insatiable boyish desire for excitement.After my
first visit with a friend to the Apostolic Pentecostal Full Gospel
Church my freshman year of high school, I was caught up in the loud
music, the cheering even the idea of speaking in tongues. For six
months I attended this small church, one time I was even grounded from
church for quite a while because the Friday night youth service lasted
until 4a.m. and I didn’t call home. Eventually as the "emotional high"
of the services began to wear off and have less effect, much like (I
hear) the effects of drugs, I began to question. They made some pretty
radical claims. The people at the Methodist church would not be in
heaven, for example. You had to speak in tongues to be a child of God.
They made extraordinary claims about the ability to do miracles and
prophecy the future, but no actions ever seemed to follow the
rhetoric.Though it was hard, I wrote them a letter outlining my
problems with them. Things didn’t seem to make sense. Their
denomination had only existed for a few decades, what about the two
thousand years in between? Was everyone from that time in hell? Surely,
not. Speaking in tongues seemed to be so silly at times, like they were
all just making up things off the top of their heads. None of it
sounded anything like a different language, and none of them sounded
similar. A few days after I delivered the letter, four of them came to
my house to explain to me why I was going to hell. I had committed
blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, you see, and that was unforgivable.
Though some might argue that it could be very psychologically damaging
to tell a fourteen year old that he was damned to hell, I can’t help
but think it was at least courteous for them to let me know. As I was
now an apostate, all but one of them cut me off from their social
lives, and she only because she held out hope that I hadn’t completely
damned myself.I hopped churches for a while. Back to the Methodist
church, to an Assembly of God church, a Freewill Baptist church, even
another Apostolic Pentecostal church (maybe they were right, and surely
these people wouldn’t know about my blasphemy!). Eventually I found a
home in a Nazarene church, where though I’ve always felt a bit the
outsider, the people were generally good and accepting of me. The youth
group was huge, and almost immediately I was thrust into leadership
positions.As my high school years passed, it seemed only natural for me
to pursue full-time ministry. With my negative experience with the
Pentecostal church in the back of my mind, I found that I was a “good
Christian.” Leading small groups at youth group, leading my school’s
Fellowship of Christian Athletes and spending nearly all of my time
witnessing to anyone who would hear me out. I had found a skill, if you
will.At the (extremely persistent) prompting of my youth pastor, I
shipped off to the regional Nazarene University for college. For the
first time in my life I was surrounded by Christians. It was thrilling
at first, people were all generally nice. Classes all began with
prayer. Chapel was held three times a week. For the first semester I
was happy to finally be in a place that advocated my values.But over
time I found that I was in the minority. In the fall of my freshman
year, the White House was up for grabs. Of course the majority of my
school was in love with George W. Bush. My Kerry-Edwards poster was
taped to the urinal of my dorm. Some of my friends referred to me as
a "baby killer." When I suggested in a class that homosexuals weren’t
in fact destroying America, I was sneeringly labeled "liberal" by a
classmate. A label I have proudly worn ever since.It was as I began to
explore more deeply into my religion classes that I first began to
seriously question. Of course throughout my years as a Christian I had
asked questions, but always had come back to the idea of "faith." I
found it disconcerting that my freshman biology professor gave me a "C"
on my final paper because I refused to write about how creationism made
more sense than evolution. I was frustrated by my Christian Life and
Ministry Professor who prayed for the forgiveness of Democrats. I was
frightened by my history professor who mentioned the "mystery cults"
during the time of Jesus who seemed to have many similarities to
Christianity... and no body wanted to hear more about them.As my
freshman year turned to sophomore year, some of the inconsistencies of
faith began to strike me. Some of the poor arguments for Christianity
started to bother me. Some of the doctrines of the church shook me. For
a while I pressed on. Then I found myself attached to Calvinist
theology of election and predestination. I became convinced that the
reason things didn’t always make sense to me and the reason I still
struggled with the same "sin" as when I was a new Christian was that I
was simply not elect. God did not love me.Out of sheer willpower I
broke free from that notion and again became enthusiastic about the
cause for Christ. My frustration with the shallow religion courses
prompted a change of major to philosophy. My passions began to thrive
around the philosophy of religion and I was bound and determined to
prove the existence of God, particularly the Judeo-Christian God. My
desire to be a minister was replaced by a desire to be an apologist.As
I became aware of the cosmological, teleological, ontological, etc.
arguments for the existence of God, I became obsessed with the need for
a rational explanation for Christianity. I devoted countless hours my
junior year of college to reading anything I could get my hands on.
Books from atheists, journals from Christian thinkers, videos of
lectures by Christian apologists.In my Systematic Theology class which
dealt heavily with philosophy of religion issues, I found that I
thrived. The class was the hardest religion course I'd taken. The
professor was brilliant, and serious about his work. He required his
students to read, a lot. And his exams consisted of nothing but very
intense essays. I would study for weeks for those exams, and often got
them back with notes that read along the lines of: "Great work, best
essay I have read yet."As the year pressed on; however, my doubts only
increased. So much didn't add up. And the parts that did add up
required that I work from the conclusion backwards. I pressed further,
beginning to read much more technical philosophy of religion works.All
the while, I was preaching at regional churches through a campus
ministry. And I was good, I think. Often, with or without an altar
call, people would come and pray. After services old women would
approach me and tell me, "You need to do full-time ministry!" The
church board of one congregation approached me at the end of service as
a group and told me I had "saved their church" from infighting.But none
of this would confirm for me any kind of "call" on my life. I was
unable to work past the contradictions, the absurdities, and the
missing gaps of Christianity. Why would God command the Israelites to
murder entire people groups? Why did the psalmist glory in the thought
of bashing the heads of Babylonian babies against rocks? Why did Jesus
tell the gentile woman she was a dog? Why did Paul say that women
should not be allowed to speak in church? Why is homosexuality an
abomination, but pride is "okay?"For the summer I worked two jobs and
took two classes. I kept incredibly busy with little time for a social
life. And all the while, one phrase would float through my head each
and every day: "Does God even exist?" I kept reading, and kept reading.
I kept questioning those things that had always bothered me, and yet I
found no answers. Only ridiculous explanations: Judas hung himself and
then he fell off a cliff and his innards burst out.I finally made the
decision that I knew my mind had made months before: it really was a
myth, a legend. An attempt by a primitive society to explain the world
around them. A failed metaphysical explanation of the universe. Having
not been raised in the church, I feel more foolish that I was an
outsider who was duped. I pride myself on my reasoning ability, on my
rationality. And yet, for years I believed in a deity that now seems
completely ridiculous.Now here I am, a week away from returning to an
evangelical university where belief in Jesus is a requirement for
admission. I’ve used the internet to make public my newfound atheism to
avoid having to do it personally. Though at this university I have
formed some of the closest interpersonal bonds of my life, I find
myself dreading the return for my senior year. I have been flooded by
e-mails and phone calls of people trying to re-convert me. Yet I can no
longer force my heart to follow what my mind cannot justify.To monitor
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