"If I cannot smoke cigars in Heaven, I shall not go." - Mark Twain

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Introductory Post, Part One: A Born-Again Christian Questions Her Faith

I grew up in a Southern small town, where the churches were filled with people who never missed an opportunity to tell you what God thought of things.  My parents were not excessively religious, but going to church every Sunday was just what decent people did.  It is called Southern Protestantism, and it’s kind of hard to explain to outsiders.  To be decent, to be well-respected in your town, you had to go to church every Sunday.  If you did not, you were looked down on, like the parents of the kids who lived in the run-down duplexes in the poor part of town, whose fathers were not married to their mothers and whose teachers did not know their names.  My father came from that side of the tracks, and he had no intention of returning, and so we went to church.  In the South, going to church is as much a class thing as a religious one.

I remember one Sunday morning, sitting in a packed church service at age ten wondering to myself, “Do all these adults around me really believe this shit?  That an invisible being controls everything and tells us what to do?”  I was ten!  But even then all that getting up at 6 a.m. and singing hymns about a preggo girl who told everybody she was a virgin (yeah, right!) just seemed dumb. 

But hell, I thought, these are grown-ups.  They must know something I don’t know.  I will trust them.

Soon I was ushered off to the church youth group, where I was given all kinds of arguments that swayed my natural skepticism:  Christianity is the only religion that has a savior who died and then rose to life again.  The Bible was written by God.  The fact that Christianity has survived for so long proves that it is the true faith.  God wants you to have faith in him; that is why you cannot see him.  Men are made in God’s image and so that is why you should forget about the fact that you are smarter than most of the boys in your class and devote your life to cooking and cleaning for them.  You ate the apple and so that is why you have menstrual cramps.  You were created by God to serve men.  People who are not baptized go to hell, even if they were good people all their lives.

And so I became a born-again Christian, because I did not want to go to hell.  I did not want to piss off this “god,” who seemed to be very easy to piss off.  I also became a born-again Christian because I loved Jesus.  I was truly in awe of the sacrifice someone would make so that I could escape my "original sin" (even though I didn't remember committing it).  But in all my years as a born-again Christian, I never accepted the argument that I was inferior because I was a woman.  My parents had instilled in me a belief in my own self-worth that contrasted sharply with what the church told me.  Even though it was stated clearly over and over again in the Bible, I figured God must not really mean it.  There must be some mistake.  There was no way you could convince me I was inferior to the boys in my class, many of whom spent the whole school day sniffing glue.

When I went to college I was president of my campus religious organization.  I had a close friend who was gay.  Before I met him, I was as homophobic as any other eighteen-year-old campus crusader, but the fact that he was a great person created another dilemma for my Christianity.  Why would God send such a nice guy to hell, just for being born with a desire for other males?  Again, I figured God just must not really mean it when he wrote in the Bible that gays should be put to death.

I remember the very first moment when I allowed myself to truly question this religion I professed.  I was in college, standing in my kitchen making Ramen noodles and reading the Bible.  I had decided to read the Bible all the way through, from beginning to end, and it had gone fine through the first 18 chapters of Genesis.  But then there was a problem.  I got to Genesis 19.  Here, two angels of God have come to Sodom and are staying in Lot’s house.  When a crowd of men from the city surround Lot’s house, asking for Lot to turn the angels over to them, Lot offers the crowd his virgin daughters, to do with as they please.  Here it is below, from the New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.  Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” (Gen. 19: 6-9)

Some have written that this passage is supposed to show how wrong rape is, but it seemed to me instead that this passage teaches us that rape is wrong only if it is rape of the two (male) angels.  Lot is a “good” man in this story.  He is the one guy in Sodom whom God chooses to save.  Thus, the story tells us that you can give your daughters over to a bloodthirsty crowd for it to “do to them as you please” and still be considered by God to be a righteous man.

This story is repeated in Judges 19, except this time it is a Levite who is passing through Gibeah and who stays at an old man’s house.  Again, a crowd of men surrounds the house, calling for the old man to turn over the Levite “so that we may have intercourse with him.”  But the old man goes out to them and says,

“No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.  Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing.  Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now.  Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.”  But the men would not listen to him.  So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them.  They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning.  (Judges 19: 22-26)

When the Levite goes out to get her the next morning, he finds her dead on the doorstep of the house.  Yeah.  You have to be seventeen to get into an R rated movie, but they put this kind of story in the hands of little children at Vacation Bible School.

These passages are not the worst of what the almighty Bible has to offer, but they are the ones that made me finally ask myself, What kind of religious book teaches something so disgustingly immoral? What kind of deity would hate women that much, to portray as good a man who would put his own daughter out to a crowd of crazed men to be raped and killed?  Then I realized, Hey, maybe this book was not written by a deity.  Maybe it was written by regular old humans (and not very nice ones at that)!  I know that for most non-religious people, this will not seem like a major epiphany.  But if you have been raised in a community that drills into your head that the Bible is the word of the Creator, and that it is the most important thing in life – more important than your job, more important than your own family, even – then that moment when you realize that it is all just a big lie is a pretty big moment.

As a Christian, I was constantly asked to “witness,” to give testimony about that moment I found God.  When I was a teenager, we all had our “when I got saved” story that we would tell in church meetings.  Now, though, what is so special to me is the moment I realized that all the religious stuff was just made up.  This was the moment I started on my journey out of Southern Protestant Christianity and toward atheism (with fun and rewarding stops in Quakerism, goddess spirituality, and paganism).

I’m wondering if other atheists had moments like this?  I’ve left the comments section below available to anonymous posts.  If anyone would like to share the story of your own “moment,” I would love to hear it.


  1. Sorry you had such a miserable experience with "religion". I grew up in a catholic church where many lies were told and where I was made to feel guilty.

    The problem with your testimony is that original sin was removed once Jesus died on the cross and you were never born into that sin. The only sins you were forgiven for were your own and your future. I do believe that a lot of good people will unfortunately go to hell because they refused to accept the word of God inspired by God but written by humans.

    Jesus is all about relationships, not rules or religion. I serve god with my whole heart and I live a free life to tell others about the relationship he desires to have with you.

    Again, I am sorry you were beat up at church, but that is not what God wants.

    God Bless,


  2. Interesting story, very different world from what I live in.

    I live in one of the least religious countries in the world, Norway. The first time I noticed religion as something to watch out for was when i was around 14 years old and the parents of one of best friends pretty much kicked him out of the family because he was not christian enough.

    If an idea like religion is powerful enough to make mommy's and daddies turn their back to their own children i figured i should read up and know a bit more about this apparent evil. Long story short I am now an active member of the Norwegian Humanists and doing my part to prevent the nutties from getting to much influence in stuff like politics :)

    Over the years I have meet more friends who have "lost" their parents to religion. Its a big psychological trauma to be unwanted by your own parents and many of them have trust issues and low self esteem.

    Lots of luck to you and your shine new blog!


  3. Hello- I found your blog posted on the GLSS facebook page. Excellent stuff! I can identify with the born-again journey, though I grew up in a non-religious household. Not necessarily atheist, just non-religious- religion was never talked about in a positive or negative light, and my exposure to Christianity came mainly through my grandparents. My grandparent's insistence that God loved me and wanted to save, coupled with the pressure of a few of my high school friends to join them at their home-church discussion group led me to Xenos Christian Fellowship. This combination of fear of hell, basic peer pressure, and a desire to be a good person (without seeking philosophy grounded in reality and humanity) seems to be the driving force, for better or worse, behind most conversions to Christianity....

    Anyways, the group, taught mostly by college students, quickly instilled in me belief in the veracity of the Bible, the reality of the Devil, and the inevitable fate of the non-Christian world. They set a "goal" for us, to try to talk to and hopefully convert five people (friends, family, etc.) every week. This always bothered me; I've never been able to support telling others how to live their private lives. It became increasingly harder for me to look at my parents, the furiously intellectual biochemist and the timid but sweet children's librarian, and accept that they would burn in hell simply because they felt no need for a God-imposed system of morality.

    My disillusionment grew slowly; verses that I knew supported gross injustices towards homosexuals, women, non-Christians, even children, were glossed over, professing instead the love-thy-brother mentality that so often disguises the true message of the god of the Bible. Still, I convinced myself, I can pick and choose, right? I can accept Jesus and still reject his idea that those who did not know of him would be punished, right? Despite the hypocrisy of this pick and choose mentality I continued in the church, convinced that I was doing the right thing.

    And then came my defining atheist moment. I had gone out for coffee with one of the college-age group leaders. Following in the pattern of the other group leaders, she effectively questioned every aspect of my life, forcing me to admit that I was not truly living my life for God. The biggest point of contention came over my boyfriend. For fear of hell I had remained starkly abstinent, but recently my boyfriend and I had started engaging in more sexual behavior, essentially just touching and the occasional oral pleasure. And this girl, barely five years older than me, had the nerve to tell me that God was very unhappy with me, and I must repent and choose between my sinful ways and God. As though she personally knew how God, MY God, felt about the harmless and morally neutral things I was doing. I never went back to church.

    I refuse to believe in a one-size-fits-all, repent-or-burn philosophy. I have since talked with my dad about his own moment of atheist conversion (he did, after all, grow up in a very religious household). He told me of a specific story in the Old Testament in which (regrettably I forget the details and the verses) the masses were at the mercy of the pharaoh, and God "hardened the pharaoh's heart," effectively making life much harder for the masses and forbidding the pharaoh the ability to decide for himself. The pharaoh, I believe, was eventually sent to hell.

    Well, that was a bit more rambling than I originally intended :P. But yes, the moment I realized how pervasive the Christian ideal of moral superiority was, I knew I could no longer be a part of it.
    Keep up the good work! I only wish there were more blogs as daring, compassionate, and insightful as yours!

  4. Thanks so much for your stories folks! It does seem to me that this judgmental attitude about who is or is not "Christian enough" drives a lot of people away from the religion. I had family members who ended their relationship with their son because he got divorced. Their church, the Church of Christ, told them that they had to "withdraw from" him because divorce was not allowed by the church. These people didn't even meet their grandchildren until they were very old. It always seemed like such a tragedy to me.

  5. I grew up in the Church of Christ, as did my wife. I was in my early 30's before I finally got up the courage and the strength to "de-convert" as you will. It happened around the time I was getting divorced from my first wife (still an ardent CoC'er). My dad is a CoC preacher and my brother is in college studying to be one too.

    I was always thinking about things growing up, questioning things, and I think that eventually led to me throwing off all of their teachings and realizing that it was all made up. That and the fact that I'm a historian and the more I studied history the more I learned about how made up the whole bible is and how most of the "big" stories in there had their origins in much earlier stories from other groups of people.

    Interestingly enough, my daughter (who lives with her mother) is being raised CoC by my ex-wife but my current wife and I do everything we can to teach her to think critically. I'm hoping it will someday lead her to figuring out these things too as she grows older.

  6. I'd be interested to hear about your other stops along the way.

  7. A long journey for me, but it started in 10th grade when my Methodist church wanted my meager wages to paint the ceiling (there was nothing wrong with it) while we all ignored the children next door to the church whose house had burned and had no shoes. Sickening. That, and saying "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church", because even then I hated their men in gold dresses and the opulence of their church all adorned with gold (while the children with the burned house had no shoes). The "simple carpenter" would have puked looking at a catholic church.

  8. If you can think for yourself and read the Bible you will know it is all bull, and I agree with you. How can such a pornographic book be givin to children. and How any woman could believe in it in this age is beyond me. The bible was writtin by ignorant masaganist men. They blamed women for everything. If someone got sick or an epidemic it must be a witch. The chuch up until the reformation were the only ones who could pretty much read the bible, and it was in Latin. I'm happy your a free thinker. good luck to you. don't let anyonone tell you what to think.