conversations with a born-again atheist: an atheist’s testimony (part 1)
If you’re new to the party, HERE are the previous posts in this series. If you want to skip the history and prefer the twitter version, I’m having an ongoing conversation with a born-again atheist. When I say “born-again atheist” I mean he was a born again Christian, but is now an atheist.
Below is PART ONE of AtypicalAtheist’s response to one of two questions I posed to him in my previous email.” (CLICK HERE to read part 2)
JSM: How did you – a self-professed born again Christian – become an atheist?
AtypicalAtheist: Hey Julie,
Here’s a book of info written over a couple of hours. I’ll answer the second question tomorrow.
You’re absolutely right – I was not coerced into accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior as a kid, nor was I coerced into immersion Baptism. Those were my choices, although in retrospect, they were kinda expected in my family. My upbringing, much like others I suspect, was that religion was handed down to me with the expectation of being assimilated. That is, whilst growing up, I wasn’t presented with a buffet of religious beliefs to choose from – I was presented with only one … on Sunday morning, we go see ReverendT at the chapel on base where we get a little sermon, I sing in the kids choir, once a month we take communion (the sweetest nastiest red wine and a wafer that stuck to the roof of my mouth), and then had donuts waiting for mom and dad in Sunday school because I was too young to participate.
I recall many services, but the two that stick out most for me was:
* Burying a time capsule in 1976 to commemorate the bicentennial after church on Sunday, July 4th, 1976 right there in the yard of the church.
* Playing Jesus in a musical … I remember soloing in a song called “3 Silver Coins”.
While we were on base, we went to church every Sunday, even when my dad was PCS or TDY. [that's "permanent change of station" and "temporary duty travel" for us non-military folk] When my dad retired from the Air Force, we ended up with a Baptist church literally behind our house. I believe my dad went to that church, and rejected it for some reason (that I found out later). We ended up going regularly to a Nazarene church. We really were part of this congregation for over a year – and my dad used to write Christian songs to perform in the church. It should be noted that my best friends in 4-7th grade were Saul (Jewish) and Jacky (although her last name Goldstein makes one think she was Jewish, she followed something completely different that I still am unaware of even today). Anyway, at one point, my dad wrote the words to a song (By Bread Alone), but didn’t have a melody in mind. He gave me the words, and it actually started my songwriting – I wrote the music for the song, and performed it in the Nazarene church. I recall my dad being really proud that I had the guts to get up there and play the piano and sing to the song. At the same time, I noticed that, unlike the chapel on base, they didn’t clap at anything in the Nazarene church. There was a profound silence and many an “amen”, but no clapping. I recall not caring for that much.
At some point (I don’t recall the point I’m afraid) my mom somewhat changed, and my dad didn’t do much about it really. We maintained Sunday as a family day, but it wasn’t really a church day anymore. My dad was still pursuing songwriting, but instead of Christian music, he pursued country music. I did however jump over the back wall to occasionally fill in on organ, and more regularly play the Krumar string machine for church services at the Baptist church. In fact, I was baptized in that church – I was in Middle School, but I don’t remember if it was 7th or 8th grade honestly. But one of those. The church was convenient because the parking lot was literally over the back wall from my house.
It was right around this time that I began studying the bible. Not at the behest of anyone in particular, but because people in the Baptist church seemed to have very different ideas about the bible than the folks at the Nazarene church and different also than in the on-base chapel. I’m trying to remember exactly what prompted my first reading of the bible, but it was around this time, and I remember very different experiences at each place. Now, having the benefit of the internet, I can see that the two churches have very different views regarding the trinity – perhaps this was the trigger. I’d be disingenuous if I stated my exact impetus – it was so long ago that I cannot recall. I just know that my first reading was after visiting all three places of worship. I know I read the bible to try to make sense of differences. I didn’t have the benefit of the internet to look things up – all I had was my bible. Funny enough, it’s one I still have today. It’s still in its bible cover replete with pen and pencil holders, and dedicated to me on my 11th birthday (1978). In fact, my dad and I painstakingly added bible book page turn stickers to the entire book. The bible is … “The Living Bible, Paraphrased, Study Reference Edition with Concordance – Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois” – Copyright 1971.
I read the thing cover to cover – I can’t honestly say exactly how long it took, but I have my little John 3:16 bookmark and made a little progress each day. There were things I didn’t understand – like Numbers 21:8 (I still have it underlined in my bible). I also have sections with blue and yellow highlighters that I recall using for various conditions. I have yellowed James 2:13, and blued James 2:22 and Psalms 34:15. I (funny enough) circled Sin as well as Repentance in the concordance. I also found a few places where my mom wrote in cursive in the bible – perhaps she borrowed it from time to time – I don’t recall. Anyway, my recollection of my first reading was one of a bit of titillation at some of the parts, and also it seemed that God was pretty mean. Lots of people being smoted and killed. This seemed to be weird to me because of how church people were saying how loving God is, but I was finding passage after passage to negate that sentiment. I see various other underlinings such as Numbers 15:30-31, and 35 which indicate I found some significance in them. Of course, it could have been find-the-passage from VBS – who knows. But I do recall this – I was a bit put off at the number of slayings. I really don’t believe I understood much of Revelations at the time either, and I found all the letters from Paul to be rather tedious. But I read. Oddly enough, after I finished the bible, I didn’t find I had much of a taste for it anymore. We moved to the other side of town and I was entering high school – so religion really fell off for me. I didn’t re-enter a place of worship until I was in 10th grade, and I was playing the piano for someone at another church.
It started innocently of course – Mrs. P. couldn’t accompany someone because she was sick – “Could you please just play this one thing for me at church? It’s only two services …. please???” In the end, I played regularly for 4 young ladies (I don’t recall playing for any guys now that I think about it). But in one case, Lisa (the Amy Grant fanatic) had me playing at churches everywhere. And they didn’t seem to be affiliated churches – like all Baptist or all Presbyterian or whatever. It was like she had an agent and was being booked all over… I’m sure it wasn’t that, but in retrospect, that’s what it seemed like. I played in Catholic churches (lots of stand, kneel, stand, kneel, and lots of Latin. But they never cracked the bible), I played a Christadelphian church where someone did something in tongues and I saw a snake participate in the service, I was in a relatively quiet church I believe was either “New Life” or something similar that I don’t have anything specific to note just that it wasn’t really specific about anything, and I also played in Pentecostal and Lutheran churches. I know the Christadelphian church wasn’t for Lisa, and neither was the Catholic. One common theme resonating throughout was “give me money” and “we’re the only right ones”. It seemed to me everyone can’t be right, and why are they always passing the plate around??? In one service I played, they passed the plate twice – once for regular tithing, and once for the new annex they were building. Gaaack!
It was around this time that I was thinking … jeeze – there are sure a lot of versions of “the truth”. I could go with this one, and be wrong, or that one and be just as wrong. So who’s right? So I read the bible again, multiple times. I think I largely skimmed some of the more boring parts my first-re-read, but I did look over each page again. Other re-reads focused on the New Testament and did laser-focus on Hell, or trying to count up the Old Testament murders. Other times, I tried to find differences in stories. I guess in retrospect, I’ve really only read it cover to cover twice, not the six times I stated earlier. The two times were complete readings. The other four times (at least, maybe more) were to focus on things that differed from church to church or were trying to find inconsistencies. In talking with Lisa one day, I mentioned a bit about some of my findings, and she said something to the effect of “Well, that’s the Old Testament God. We don’t really read much of that anymore, we’re much more concerned about the New Testament and God’s love”. That’s when it kinda hit me that she would get out of it whatever she wanted and didn’t worry about the other stuff. I recall speaking at a high-level on this to my mom, but I really don’t recall the outcome other than “take what you want and leave the rest”. Hmmm
I guess that left me with a bit of apathy then toward the bible. Several “experts” with the same book in hand, all demanding we believe different things with respect to the same document, and all claiming they’re right. Add to that my Jewish friends which believe that they’re right, and everyone believing that a god could command the killing of children and be somehow loving and just. That pretty much did it for me I think.
(CLICK HERE to read part 2)
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