Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In Which we Learn of Love

We moved from Michigan farm country to a Detroit Suburb in my 15th Summer. We needed a Christian school to attend—but what one? There were many to choose from. A cousin of a fellow church member recommended a certain non-denominational school. We visited it, liked it immediately, and decided it was the one. Found a house only a few miles away. Now all we lacked was a church.

There was a church between the school and our house that appeared conservative enough from the looks of it, and it was to be the first place we would try in our search for a new church home. It would become only my second church. I attended there for the next 10 years.

Having been involved in our country church for decades, when we left, they threw us a potluck supper after Evening service. You know you are a big family in the house of God when you receive the honorary “last meal” with a tearful good-bye. We moved that Saturday, and tried Sunday School the following day at the new Church. Didn’t miss a Sunday!

After Morning Worship, my parents introduced themselves to the Pastor and his wife; we all got to talking and the next thing you know we are at the Pastors’ house for lunch. (Needless to say, within the next year, my parents quickly re-assumed their roles of deacon/deaconess/Sunday School Teacher/Nursery Work/Head of this-or-that committee, etc.)

That evening, after the service, the youth group had a “get-together” (Real Christians don’t “party”—they “get together.”) It was at the home of the girl who would eventually stand in my wedding as the Best Woman. It was there I met my future wife; Diane.

She was thin and pretty and popular and had a ready smile. She was out of my league. I wouldn’t even bother trying to date her, because of that. Turned out not only did she attend my (new) church, but she also attended my (new) school in my grade.

We went on youth trips at the same time. Attended the same Sunday School, and youth meetings. Sat in the same pew. At school we had classes together. She played basketball; I played soccer so we would see each other at sporting events. I visited her house; she TP’d mine. But throughout high school we never dated.

At least not each other. I did date two of her friends for a period of time. She dated my locker partner for a long time. We hung out together in the same crowd, so she would often bring dates to the same events I would, as well. We double dated together a number of times. Just not with each other.

After High School, we each went to our separate colleges. In the summer, we would return to the same church, the same youth activities, and catch back up. And still not date. In the summer of ’87 we spent a great deal of time together, chumming around. I realized the reason I wanted to hang around her was not only because Diane was such a great friend—it was my infatuation with her.

I have always had a debilitating problem with fear of rejection. Despite my brash, egotistical exterior, I dreaded asking girls out. Sweaty palms, white face, stuttering words—the whole bit. On most occasions, I could not manage the courage to do so. Thet whole summer, I was dying to ask her out, but six years of being afraid to do so was bearing down on me. It was like fear of rejection on steroids. More like terror of complete elimination.

Finally, on a warm and sunny mid-August afternoon, while we were talking about nothing in particular, I summoned every ounce of bravado I had available, leaned over and kissed her. (We had been spending so much time together; asking her out on a date seemed, well, like too much to bear if she said, “No.”) There was a moment of complete silence. The world stopped. It was like kissing a statute. No reaction, and even less warmth

You know the “best” part of fear of rejection? When it comes horribly true. You really DID need a fear, ‘cause you truly ARE going to be rejected! I blurted out, “An Impulse” in the hopes of passing it off as a silly goof. One of those funny things I did, to make people laugh. Ha, Ha, bloody Ha. A few minutes later she left. No response on her part. No words of yeah, nay or indifferent. Well…actually a lot of indifferent. As if it never happened.

Could I pass it off? Would she know that I liked her, or would she think it was a crazy prank? Hey look—sweaty palms! Nice.

The next time we saw each other, it started off slightly awkward, but within minutes we were back to the same talking/laughing/joking/playful relationship we had before. I figured I had pulled it off. Whew! And right about when I had completely relaxed into thinking our friendship was restored, she reached over, grabbed my face and kissed me!

Not one of those stupid pecks of an “impulse” kiss. No—this was one of those kisses that makes your toes curl so far under you pop your laces. A “Princess Bride” kiss. Holy Smokes! Turns out she liked me, too! (Later she told me she liked me all summer, but had completely given up on my asking her out. My kiss had caught her totally off-guard; she simply did not know how to react.)

We dated for the next two weeks, seeing each other practically every day, until I went back to school. She wrote faithfully—me not so much. She called. I started to be “out” when she called. See, as great as my fear of rejection was, I had even a larger fear: Fear of Commitment. (I am the total package. Fear of rejection AND fear of commitment. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?)

By the end of the year, Diane had gotten the message. I was not interested anymore. I didn’t date in 1988 because my mother was dying, so I concentrated on spending time with her, and then my father became a lonely widower, and I concentrated on spending time with him. I still attended church, though, and still saw Diane at services. Our friendship was decidedly cool.

This church always struggled with its college age/young singles group. For the first few years of college, when coming back on summer breaks, you could re-assimilate with the High School Group. After the second year, that felt quite awkward. And we had a thriving Young Married’s Sunday School. It was the in-between period in which one wandered aimlessly. No direction. No leader. No established grouping. It was as if they wanted us to hurry up and get married right out of college, so we would conform to a certain depiction. But we weren’t ready to get married…

So a group of us, including Diane and me, decided we would create our own “College Age.” We had a regular Sunday School teacher who was one year older than I. And we conned the Pastor into teaching a Bible class on Wednesday Nights for us. We planned our own events. We refused to be a “gap.”

This was one of those wonderful times in which you are old and smart enough to have resolutions to all the world’s problems, yet young and naive enough to not realize you would never be able to implement them. Most of us loved to bowl. We would go bowling, then transfer over to the bar and discuss whatever hot topic was available. Bowling, Beer, Broads and Bible study. What a combination!

We met at each other’s houses to play cards or pool or ping-pong or yard darts or football, and then scrounge the refrigerator, and talk until 1 in the morning. We argued over predestination. Free Will. Babies going to Heaven. Marriage. Divorce. Practicing Halloween. Practicing Christmas. Gifts. Tithing. Sex. Abortion. Homosexuality. Polygamy. Rock-n-Roll. And how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. (1 or infinity.)

With all this interaction, I started to fall in love with Diane again. We began to date (once more) in the summer of ’89. By January 1990 we were engaged. In December we were married in this church, with the Pastor (the conned one) leading the service, and many of our college age friends standing with us.

Diane complements me. I am fussily neat. Her messiness reminds me not everything has to be in a row to work. She cannot cook; I cannot bake. I make the meal; she makes fantastic deserts. I am infamous for killing plants. Nothing grows or thrives under my care. She could make a dead stick blossom.

To me, money is a thing to spend; to her money is a thing to save. But more importantly, she complements my personality. I need a woman with a bit of feistiness; she is just the ticket. I need someone to keep my feet on the ground; she is able to reign me in. I love her (that goes without saying) but even more importantly, I would be completely lost without her.

After marriage, we were granted “acceptance” into the young married Sunday School. By this point, other couples had formed from our college age (strange how that occurs) so it was really more of the same—college age plus, plus. Diane was placed in charge of the Nursery, I taught Small groups. We attended regularly.

It truly emulated a “circle of life” in which we were becoming our own parents. We decided to change churches, to attend a more modern, “up beat” service. Made new friends. Kept the old friends. (My father and Diane’s mother continued at the old church, and we still went to certain functions. There was no acrimony.)

Then, due to a change in locale, we ended up at a Baptist Church. (We did attend a Wesleyan Church, but the Calvinist in me couldn’t cut it.). This would be the last church we would both be members. We were teaching 4-5 year olds, and substitute teaching adult Sunday Schools, and helping out Church programs and…you get the picture.

It was about then that I started to interact with skeptics and non-believers on-line. Within a few months, I realized I was losing my religion. She watched me struggle. She saw the books I was reading, the sites I was hitting, and the articles I was printing off. She knew that I was getting up at 2 a.m. every morning and leaving the bedroom.

But even from her, I was not revealing how much of a conflict this was. I thought it was a phase. A time of doubt. A period of testing with eventual growth. Obviously I was wrong about that, too.

I had read the deconversion stories. I knew the incidents of divorce are very high in the situation looming before me. I vowed to not let it happen. Saying so and doing so are two different things.

One day I gently broached the subject; testing the waters. We were talking about some Biblical event, and I said, “But what if it wasn’t true? What if it didn’t happen that way?”

“Of course it did,” Diane sharply retorted, “Those books are filling your head with too much thinking. You don’t really believe that, do you?”

A long silence, in which the answer became more evident, the quieter it was. “Well, I don’t think you should spend any more time on those sites.” End of discussion.

Over the next months, I would try to bring up the subject; she would refuse to talk about it. This was very unlike her. Normally, she hated people who swept problems under the rug. She wants them confronted and resolved. When (as any husband would do) I pointed out she was doing what she despised, she readily admitted she was and so what? She was going to and that was that.

Finally, I was informed that she did not want to know another thing about it. Not. A. Thing. This would have been fine, if I hadn’t sent a letter to my entire family explaining I was no longer a Christian, and was, in fact, an atheist. The proverbial toothpaste was out of the tube. Pandora’s Box was opened. Whatever metaphor you choose; there was no going back.

At this point it became a reality for my wife and broke her heart. We had grounded our morality within the Christian framework, and she felt (just as I did prior to becoming a heathen myself) without that framework, I would degrade into a nihilistic hedonist where anything goes. She could no longer trust my theistic belief to keep the raging human contained.

Further, we had a fire-and-brimstone belief in hell. I was not only subjecting myself to such an eternal fate but if I shared my sentiments; even worse—I would be endangering our children as well. In straightforward terms, she informed me if I shared my views with my children she would leave me in order to protect them. To her, this would be the equivalent of my becoming a child abuser. In the same way she would take the children and leave to protect them, she would also be protecting them by taking them away from a person who is opening them to the possibility of eternal torture.

Friends flatly stated if their husbands did such a thing, they would divorce them. I am not aware of a person who directly stated, “You should divorce him” but the sentiment was more than made evident they would fully support and encourage such a decision. She was informed I had betrayed our marriage as bad--even worse than having an affair. She was told they would pray for her.

And then she heard silence. I don’t blame the Christian community, or our friends. We were in a situation in which they simply are unable to cope. If I had an affair, then we could forgive and move on. If I declared myself as a homosexual, then we could “resolve” the problem in some fashion and move on. But this…our remaining married…was like my continuing to have an affair with no end in site. There was no “moving on.” There was no “resolution.” It was a problem, a problem, a problem.

A problem they do not understand, nor can they.

The first person I had told about deconverting was my best friend. We had roomed together, both in college, and after. He was in our college group. One night, with just the two of us at dinner, I explained my deconversion. He is the only friend I have continued to maintain post-deconversion. To his vast, vast credit, he obtained some material on his own, and did some reading on his own.

Of course, he has maintained his Christianity and faith, but he has partially understood the “why” that someone could not believe, and the fact there is a great deal of material out there unsupportive of Christianity’s claims.

All of my other friends have left me. One of my shocks was when I shared my situation with a close friend (another in the college age church group). He was a person I had spent many an hour from 11 p.m. to 1 p.m. discussing everything under the sun. When I told him, he said, “I refuse to discuss this ever again with you.” End of Statement. And he hasn’t. (I must be very overbearing.) Another in the list of pastors, teachers, friends and family who pretend the monster isn’t there by not talking about it.

After a period of silence we returned to being acquaintances. You know the sort, “Hey, how are ya? How’s work? Oh, look at the time; we must do this again someday.” It would be a stretch to qualify our relationship as “friends.”

Diane and I were doing this on our own. Which meant a number of fights. (She looked in to getting counseling at a church, but heard, “You are WHAT?...I mean…and he still wants to be married to you?...But doesn’t want to be a Christian?...And he knows….but yet he’s…look…uh…we aren’t really prepared to handle this sort of thing. Sorry.” Click.)

I tried to be understanding that I was the one who had switched on her. That she needed time to adjust. But long moments of silence with a problem between us were not healthy. I would attempt to initiate conversations. Resulting in a fight. There simply was no common ground. She regrets marrying me. (Which, unfortunately, remains an open wound.) She refused to talk about it. She watched what I said to my children like a hawk—concerned over the slightest hint of a suggestion of a possibility of there not being a god.

And what she saw was…nothing. I didn’t pick up a bevy of prostitutes in a part-time job as a pimp. I didn’t start smoking crack. No wild parties. I didn’t smuggle atheistic books into my children’s night-time reading material. No statements mocking Christianity.

As time progressed, nothing changed. Diane began to relax. Turns out an atheist CAN have morals after all. There are occasional hiccups. I dare not criticize even the carpeting in a church without receiving a disapproving silence. I have to tread carefully in some family conversations. But at this point, we have settled into an uneasy truce in which my lack of belief in god is ignored. Not talked about.

I still love her despite my “lack of morals.” I think she still loves me. Certainly all the parts of me exactly like the old me. Obviously she is not so thrilled with my atheistic belief. It is an area of our life that is not discussed like the proverbial “elephant in the room.” It may not be the optimal situation, but our marriage remains preserved.

Part of the reason that I am discussing this, is to show my deconversion story warts and all. To fully understand what it means, it must be partly understood why deconversion is not a matter of desire. I didn’t “want” to be an atheist. I didn’t think atheists had the coolest shirts, so I became one to join the crowd.

My deconversion has hurt my wife, my marriage, my family, my friendships and me. I know, as a Christian, we are taught that humans attempt to disbelieve in god because of pride. Because of selfishness. When I look at the wrecking ball job it has done to my relationship with my wife, I can’t help wonder, “Who would want this?” Who would do this out of pride or selfishness? That concept is unfathomable to me.

Nor do I want to give the impression that simply because it has caused me personal harm “it must be true.” Many people have given up much more for beliefs that turn out to be false. As I progress through what happened, for me, it seems bizarre that anyone would desire to deconvert. Many stories, like me own, tell quite the opposite—against our every desire, we could no long hold on to our former beliefs.

Chapter 8

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In Which we Learn Every Good Boy Does Fine

My Father has a very good singing voice. My mother could hold her own in a choir. My other brothers and sister play instruments (multiple each) and also sing very well. These abilities are considered benefits in the Church Service. Needless to say, Dad was in the choir, sang special music, and if need be, led singing. The rest of my family also took part, either in choirs, or solos, or groups, or instruments. They got the big parts in the Christmas and Easter Cantatas.

Me? I was a shepherd, with the desperate hope that all the other shepherd’s voices singing “While Shepherds Watched their flocks by Night” would drown out the horrible screeching sound that was exuding from my mouth.

My friend, Steven, lived next door to me. (In the country, that means there were only three cornfields between our houses. Seriously.) His mother was the Music Director for our church. His family was equally musically talented. For three long years my mother faithfully sent me for piano lessons with Steven’s poor Mother. Imagine being able to play Bach so beautifully that tears would come to your eyes, and be forced to teach a person with absolutely, positively NO musical talent whatsoever, “The Hopping Bunny.” Those weren’t tears—those were sobs!

After torturing this saint of a woman, who held her suffering with Job-like patience, we decided that it was no use. My parents had used up every single musical gene in creating my brothers and sister. By the time it came to me—they were completely tapped out. I was forever relegated to Shepherdom for the Christmas Cantata and Rioter for the Easter.

What I lack for in musical ability, I made up in intelligence. I was that kid you hated. You know—the one that blew the bell curve? Remember the student that was really smart, but didn’t have the ability to take tests, so they did not do so well on the SAT, or on the final? That wasn’t me. I loved tests. I took tests very well.

Worse, I didn’t care about grades, so I barely applied myself. I found by only half-hearted exertion, I could maintain a 3.5 average. Why bother breaking a sweat? (I told you I am the kid you hated.) I rarely studied, never had homework, and breezed my way through school. (Law school set me back, admittedly. No breezing there!)

Between my kindergarten and First grade, my family, along with dozens of other Christian families in the community, started a Christian school. The last public school I ever attended was that kindergarten year. I went to a Baptist school through ninth grade. Then a non-denominational school through High School Graduation. To a Baptist College for my freshman year. Back to Non-denominational Christian college until I got my degree. And finally a Catholic Law School.

What this means, is that for 12 years of Elementary through High School, instead of having just six classes of the standard Math, Science, English, History sort, we had an additional seventh class of Bible teaching. We had Bible history. Old Testament Survey. New Testament Survey. Prophets, Minor. Prophets, Major. Prophecy. Doctrine and Theology. Church History. Poetry.

It was here that we learned the nuts and bolts of the Bible. At church, we may learn how to apply the claim of Jesus living in the Temple of our heart. At school we learned the dimensions of the Temple, when it was built, what it looked like, when it was destroyed, when the Second Temple was built, what it looked like, and when it was destroyed.

We learned how many good kings there were in divided Israel. We memorized the names of the kings of Judah. We created charts, made models of Arks, traced timelines, and had quizzes on Jacob’s wives.

These were Christian students, (who believed the Bible was true) sent to a school by Christian parents (who believe the Bible was true) and taught by Christian teachers. In point of fact, a teacher that dared question or raise an issue as to the truthfulness of the Bible would have been fired. I do not recall much presentation of alternative views in any viable sense. Oh, we knew they were there. But when referred to (if referred to at all), it would have been in a mocking tone, as if such a belief should be relegated to a flat earth belief, or claims of aliens blocked by tinfoil helmets.

My 11th and 12th Grade Bible teacher was my favorite teacher in my entire school experience. He was the one that introduced me to apologetics. For the first time, we were informed of alternate views, and what those view’s arguments were (even had to memorize them!). Yes, in retrospect, it was from a very decidedly Christian slant, and not completely forthright—but that was to be expected, really. Here we had to read “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” (Hey—Strobel was unheard of, at this point. “Intelligent Design” was a thing of the future. We were still battling OEC’s and Evolutionists back then.)

We learned the historical arguments for a resurrection. (Very McDowellian.) We learned the arguments for God. (Uncaused Cause was my favorite. Again, this was before Craig and Kalaam’s Cosmological.) We debated the Problem of Evil. (The resolution of “Evil is the absence of Good.”)

It is slightly amusing as I write, to think back to these arguments we learned in 1983 and 1984, which are still prevalent today. I remember the argument that there is no such thing as an atheist, because to say, “There is no god” would mean we have to know everything, which would make us a god. Therefore, one has to admit (not being a god) not knowing everything, so therefore, they cannot know there is no god. They must, therefore, be an agnostic.

Don’t we still see that?

I met with this teacher on numerous occasions after school, because we got along so well. We debated off-campus more dangerous topics, such as the legality of drinking or dancing, or the fact that he was not a Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Millenniumist. (Both strictly forbidden at school, of course.) We talked about Age of Accountability, or Divorce, or Pre-marital sex. We were able to discuss and debate much more freely than time (and administration) allowed.

When returning from college at breaks, I would look him up, and we would catch up on each other’s lives. I did it so long; we reached a point where we were having a beer together. And we would still laugh and joke and debate.

He eventually moved away, and we lost contact.

At some point in my deconversion process, I realized that I was in trouble regarding the apparent weakness in Christian arguments. I needed some guidance, and my normal points of reference would not do. I needed to go “off the grid” and find out how bad it was. Without hesitation, it was this man that my mind turned to.

I looked him up, and found an e-mail address at his new location. After an initial exchange of “Is that you?” “Oh, my—is that YOU?” and “You won’t believe who I married…” I explained my situation—that I was debating infidels and some of their arguments appeared sound. Sound enough, that I was having trouble continuing with the tired, unconvincing defenses. I may not have explained the depth of my own concern.

I do not specifically recall what all I mentioned, but it must have been something about the resurrection of Christ, because he responded back with a cryptic note about non-Christian writings confirming Christ, such as Thallus.

Thallus? He relied upon Thallus? (If you don’t know--Eusebuis quotes from a scrap of Julius Africanus about a fellow named Thallus claiming the darkness was an eclipse. We have no writing of Thallus, and only supposition as to what time period he was writing.)

I fired back an e-mail, laying out the problems with Thallus, and the issues with the Christian apologetical claims attempting to shoe-horn this into an independent verification of Jesus’ crucifixion. In my mind, I was picking up where we had last left off. More debate. This was what I was looking for—a fresh perspective from the non-theistic world in which I was immersed.

He replied with a one sentence e-mail. “I will not debate this with you.” I was devastated. Here was a fellow that we could discuss anything, even forbidden topics. Someone that understood my intellectual craving. Oh, I could reach out and grab any number of people that would pray for me, or tell me to “seek Jesus” or give me some trite platitude as to how to maintain belief in Christianity—but this was a person who could give me actual intelligent Christian conversation. (Thanks, Dr. Mohler for the by-line.)

And he decided to not. I never heard from him again. (This was to become standard operating procedure in the next few months to come. With other discussions with other ex-pastors, ex-friends and ex-associates.)

Following High School, I attended a Baptist College. It was required to have a “Bible” minor, so once again, I picked up Bible courses. Having done so for so long, there was nothing unique about it. After my first year, I was not given the option to return (a story in itself) and I completed my college courses at a non-denominational Christian College. While Bible was not a required minor, I enjoyed it so much, I took the classes anyway. The same familiar regimen—Old Testament Survey, New Testament survey, Hermeneutics, Homiletics, History of Israel, Church History, Gospels, Pauline writings, etc. In fact, as it turned out, I took so many classes; I ended up with a Bible Minor (and then some) without even trying for it!

I flirted with the idea of attending Seminary.

What is curious is that with all that study, I don’t recall ever discussing the Synoptic Problem. I recall very little discussion of Textual Criticism, and even then it was brushed aside as a “resolved” problem. As if, long ago, there were these issues, but with the advent of modern times, very little, if any, discrepancies remain. I certainly did not study Documentary Hypothesis.

I never had a single science course that gave evolution even the remotest possibility of credibility. Not even a hint.

I completed my education at a Catholic Law School. This is not saying very much, since it was Catholic in name only. No Bible classes or Mass was required. Probably one of the funniest moments of my Law School career was in Family Law in which the professor asked (to generate discussion) who was anti-abortion. In a class of 50 people, only one person raised their hand—me! I looked around and said, “This is a Catholic School!?” What made it humorous was that only 4 or 5 students even understood the connection.

In retrospect, my only regret, with all that Biblical background, was my failure to take Greek. Languages are not my strong suit, and do not come easily for me. (In order to cram in my language requirements, I took Spanish 201, French 101 and German 101 all in the same semester. My professors took pity on me.)

If there is any point in this history of my schooling, it is that I enjoyed the study of Christianity, the Bible and its God. What is disturbing is how much I did Bible study, but how little I studied the Bible. In all these courses, we either presumed the Bible was true, or only discussed proofs that supported the Bible was true. It was decidedly one-sided.

Chapter 7

Monday, September 24, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In Which we Learn Loose Lips Sink Ships

My father was a deacon and my mother a deaconess for as long as I can remember. They were on every committee imaginable. One of my friends was the pastor’s son (whose mother was a deaconess) and my other friend also had parents in the same role as mine. In addition, our parents were friends, which meant that we would not only see each other at church (and school) but would often get together socially on the weekend.

Basically, this means that every piece of church news or gossip was available to us. There was nothing going on that didn’t pass through one or more of the three families. We suspected who was unhappy with the current board. Who wouldn’t run again as a deacon. Who was having marriage troubles.

Some of it was obvious. On Sunday we would all stay after church with our parents in some sort of committee meeting, and we would see “Mr. Bob” staying as well. And then “Mr. Bob” would stop attending our church. Even a child could add that up. Or some weekday evening the parents would get together, unexpectedly, and meet in our basement. No kids allowed. We knew we would only have to keep our ears and eyes open for the next few weeks, and the situation would betray itself.

Every child in the world is aware that the quieter your parents talk, the louder you listen. All the while pretending to be completely immersed in some other distraction and you are in no way paying attention to anything those parents are saying!

For a young boy growing up, this exposure to the upper-workings of the church revealed two things:

a) Churches are made up of people who are sometimes petty, spiteful, vengeful, and untrustworthy; and
b) Such information is pretty boring for a young boy.

This was adult gossip and politics. While we knew it was our duty as a child to learn as many secrets about our parents and their activities as possible—as we learned them, they turned out to be things that adults cared about. Very uninteresting to someone who wanted to build forts, or climb trees, or play sports. We didn’t care whether “Mr. Bob” was attending or not. It was far more enticing to use the meeting for an opportunity to run (unsupervised) in the sanctuary than to watch who was having problems with whom.

Growing up, the politics and machinations of the church was something that was perpetually evident, but left no impact on me. I realized that people sinned. That people fought. That sometimes people helped each other, and sometimes people hurt each other. Unwittingly, my parents were teaching me that Christians are neither glorious saints, nor terrible sinners. Someone leaving the church was as much a part of life as a newcomer being welcomed. It just…was.

We remained untouched by these sorts of politics. My family was not fighting with another. We were not avoiding sitting next to certain people at church. We seemed immune.

We were not.

The Baptist school I attended in 8th grade was independent. That means it was not under one particular church, but was run by a school board. In the late 70’s a scare was promulgating through the Christian community that independent Christian schools (such as ours) would lose their non-profit status unless they became associated with a Church. One of yet another scares of Government going after Christians. (False again, as it turns out.)

In our area there was only one church financially, practically and territorially feasible to assume this role. (Not ours.) At the end of my 8th grade school year, the board held a meeting to make the momentous decision—do they cease independence, and become a school under one church? My parents had many friends in this church and there were some rumblings as to problems with the pastor. Pastor Pete. People were concerned and issues were not being addressed.

Due to these concerns, as well as not quite buying the scare, my father (on the board) voted against placing the school under the church. The vote was 8-1 in favor. Guess who was odd man out? Pastor Pete (also on the board, and obviously one of the “8”) was furious that it was not unanimous.

That summer, as Baptist churches are wont to do—this particular church split. Our friends left the church (and school) to start another. To avoid expenses, and to help cement the situation, Pastor Pete assumed the role of principal at our school. I returned to my 9th grade year; my brother entering his 11th, happy and oblivious to the storm that was brewing.

Within the first month, I asked to leave a class to use the restroom. (You remember the bit—hall pass if a teacher catches you. The slip including the time you left and where you were going. That sort of thing) I was told I could not. Struck me funny—other kids had, and it was not an unusual occurrence to go to the bathroom. I shrugged it off. My brother mentioned the same thing happened to him. Odd.

I asked a teacher I was friendly with. After a bit of hemming and hawing, he said that word was out we were “trouble” and to not let us interrupt classes. Hall passes were not allowed. I asked if anyone else was on this list of “trouble” and the long moment of silence was answer enough.

Now, I was always a “bit of trouble.” Never anything to get suspend--…never anything to get expelled, but one that always seemed to be there when things happened. Now-a-days I would be what they call “a person of interest.” For me to have a reputation as a troublemaker…well…not exactly a “twist ending” if you know what I mean. But my brother? Nuts, his picture was next to “Goody Two-Shoes” in the Dictionary! I doubt he had ever received a punishment at school in his life! Calling him “trouble” was unthinkable.

Other items began to surface. If we were late, we were punished. If others were late; they were warned. We were not allowed to attend certain after-school functions. My parents took a week off so we could attend Basic Youth Seminars in Florida. We were not allowed to make-up the work.

A moment on personalities. We all have taken those personality tests. Growing up, LaHaye’s “Phlegmatic, Sanguine, Melancholy and Cleric” were popular. Myers-Briggs is common now. While they are fun and all—there is not much we can do to change our personalities. We may wish we were something different, but regardless of desire, or effort, we are stuck with who we are.

My personality has always been a bit happy-go-lucky. I cannot hold a grudge. No matter how much I hate you, or how mad I am, or how much you have hurt me—and my burning desire to be mad at you for ever and ever and ever…after a few days, I cannot sustain that anger. I figure, “what the heck, life is too short” and move on. Even if I wanted to; I can’t.

My brother, on the other hand, is very good at holding a grudge. Very, VERY good. Years are but drops in the bucket when he is angry. If he needs to be mad forever, then he will be. He also has a strong sense of what is fair. He wants all people to be treated equally. Including himself.

We had never been on the receiving end of “church discipline” (for lack of a better term.) This was new territory for us. And our personalities responded in two diverse directions. I was fascinated by it, and played it up for all it was worth. Even as a 14-year-old, I saw that “Good Girls like Bad Boys.” I didn’t even have to do anything that wrong, and I was getting a reputation! How cool is THAT?

Sadly, my brother was not able to take it in stride, due to his personality. The unfairness of the situation, coupled with being punished for things which did not deserve punishment made him very bitter. He was angry for years. I am no psychiatrist, but I don’t think he got over this until many years later when he became bitter about another situation. Hard to be bitter about two things at once. (And it could be that he had some justification. Another example was after we transferred the school sent my brother’s transcripts. His overall G.P.A. had dropped significantly overnight. It seemed that “mysteriously” a number of his listed grades were much lower than what we recalled. Only upon bringing out all his past report cards was it demonstrated that they had been deliberately lowered. Yes—that sort of thing happens.)

In the spring, the school held a weeklong Bible conference. The youth pastor of our church attended one of the sessions. Afterwards, Pastor Pete told our youth pastor he wanted to meet him. Privately.

“Do you know you have a family in your church running rough shod in our school? They take vacations whenever they want. They tell their sons to leave class whenever they feel like it. They show up at school functions unruly, and are often tardy.

“Now I am not going to say who it is, but the boys attend your youth ministry.” (We were the only brothers in the school also attending the church. This is equivalent of saying, “I am disguising them under the initials of ‘B. Franklin.’”) “We think you should address this issue as well. If you think they are causing trouble” [hint, hint, “If you want to make up situations in which they are causing trouble.”] “you feel free to let me know. And I will let you know if they are causing trouble here.”

Our youth pastor was dumb-founded. He didn’t know what to say. He knew exactly what family the principal/pastor was referring to. He would have to—he was my brother-in-law.

Yep. Because he had married my sister, his last name was (obviously) not the same as ours. Pastor Pete had not made the connection! The funniest part was the fact my brother-in-law and sister went with us on this vacation to Basic Youth Conflicts! He crawled out of that office, thinking, “That didn’t just happen. Did it?” We all wish we could have been there when ol’ Pastor Pete finally figured out the family relationship. Although with these types, it probably wouldn’t even have put a ding in the armor.

A month or so later, my brother and I were called to the office. Again. For something we did wrong. Again. They called our father to have a meeting after school. My brother seethed; I thought, “Oh boy is THIS great!” I was so terribly wrong.

My father came, and the pastor/principal started to launch into the diatribe as to another infraction on our part. My brother shrunk in his chair, saying, “Not fair; not fair” I (unusually) wisely stayed quiet, and the pastor went on and on. Finally my father had his full.

“O.K. That’s enough. We will go now.”
“No you will NOT! These boys are nothing but trouble, and will ALWAYS be nothing but trouble.”

My father got angry. Up until that very day, hour and minute, I had never seen my dad angry. Ever. We had been caught drinking alcohol the year before. He was disappointed. We had been caught doing all the things boys do—lying, cheating, punching each other, etc. He had punished us; he had talked to us. But he had never raised his voice at us. (Don’t worry, dear reader. My mother MORE than made up for my father. She yelled and got angry with us plenty of times.)

He stood up and started to yell at this pastor. I was terrified out of my mind. This was not the father I knew. This was…this was…it was like seeing Ghandi mow down a crowd of schoolchildren with a machine gun. It was not fun. It was not great. It was absolutely, mind-numbingly scary.

I don’t remember a single word he said. The pastor appeared as terrified as we. The room was so tense that we thought a single scrap of a chair or cough would be the equivalent of a bomb going off, and the entire school would explode in an upheaval of emotion. All I hoped was that my dad did not swing on the pastor—‘cause I don’t think he would have been able to stop.

After a few minutes, my father stopped, looked at us and said. “Go. Now.” (We drove to school, so we were driving separately.) We literally ran out of that room. Both of us got in the car, and drove home. No radio, dead silence. I don’t know what my brother was thinking, but I was certain my father was going to kill me when we got home.

I was not quite mature enough to figure out that dad was angry with the pastor. All I knew (being a kid) was that a man I had never seen yell before was as angry as I had ever seen anyone, and it had all started with my being in trouble. The most logical conclusion in the world was that he was going to kill us, bury us, and tell the world he never had those two boys.

When he got home, my father sat us down. First, he apologized for becoming angry like that. (!) Then he told us that we needed to grin and bear out the remainder of the year. We would not be going back to that school in the fall. Finally he told us if that pastor ever did anything like that again, we were to let him know at once.

And that…was that. We finished the year relatively pain-free. No more special treatment. No more unwarranted punishments. The last day, because we had already completed our exams, my brother and I showed up in jeans to say good-bye to our friends. They kicked us off school property for violating the dress code. We laughed. (My laughter was genuine.)

As it turned out, the summer after my 9th grade, my father obtained a new job that required a move. We would have changed schools anyway.

Afterwards we continued to attend church. Our parents continued in positions, which made us available to the inner-workings of Church Upper management secondhand. We grew to the point of assuming similar positions. I never got involved in church politics. I was raised with the knowledge of one person leaving would soon be replaced with another joining.

Many deconversion stories contain incidents where people discover that some Christians can be…despite all appearances…real cads. I have no such tales. You have just read the “worst” such incident in my life—and to me (excluding one evening in the principal’s office) it was quite enjoyable!

I grew up knowing of the embezzlers, the sexual predators, the affairs, and the domestic violence within the church. While I did not realize the specific crimes at the time, as I grew older and learned of similar situations, I could look back and recall those same meetings happening as I was young.

I grew up in church; I knew that sharing a personal struggle with some sin would often end up being next days “hot gossip.” I knew that people would be (and were) asked to leave for certain sins. I knew others that also struggled with sins, but dare not admit it for the same reasons I would not.

I grew up realizing Christians are humans. Nothing more. Nothing divine within (even if I thought there was at the time.)

I grew up knowing I was only one situation away from being called to a special meeting after church in which I would be asked to either support or decry a certain position, person or principle. And on the way to the meeting the deacons’ kids’ eyes would look at me with a sense of fatality. ‘Cause they were growing up just like me…

Chapter 6

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In Which we Learn to Color Inside the Lines

To me, the Bible (consisting of the 66 books including the Old Testament and New Testament) was the inspired, inerrant writing provided by God. There was no other. Not the Mormon Bible. Not “Our Daily Bread.” The Bible and only the Bible.

By inspiration, we meant that God, in some divine way, and unlike any other history, poetry, proverb, psalm or doctrinal statement, had somehow intervened in its creation. The “how” was not exactly clear. We recognized each author wrote in their own particular style, with their own purpose, and wrote to their particular place in history, with its particular problems.

God did not simply dictate these writings to certain people nor did God read them afterwards and say, “Hey, that’s pretty good—I will give it my stamp of approval.” God was actively involved at the moment it was pen-to-paper, yet the author was writing it as if is it was their own.

Look, we believed that God used a natural human (Mary) combined in some way with supernatural (Holy Spirit) to form a being that looked natural (Jesus the Human) but was also divine (Jesus the God.) It was equally conceivable God used a natural human (the authors) combined with supernatural to form a book that looked natural, but was also divine—the Bible.

We could argue over whether Roberts’ Rules of Orders were appropriate for Church business meetings. We could argue over whether to have trustees, deacons or elders. We could argue over whether to have Sunday Evening Service at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. But the ONE thing we CANNOT argue over is the Bible. That was the closest thing we have to objectively determining what God was saying. It defined “sacrosanct.”

By inerrancy, we meant that there were no internal or external contradictions to the Bible.

As I sit here and reflect on inerrancy, it is with wry amusement I see that in most discussions on inerrancy the skeptic and believer battle over facts. How did Judas die? What did Jesus say on the cross? The genealogies of Luke and Matthew. In retrospect, as Christians we very rarely discussed factual contradictions.

Maybe once in a great while, in a class of “How to Deal with the Skeptic” we would raise these “apparent” contradictions, and then provide a possible resolution. Guess what? We already bought the claim of inerrancy. Is it any surprise that we would happily jump on to any possible resolution and assume it to be true?

No—when it came to inerrancy the focus was on doctrinal issues. How do we resolve what one author said as compared to another? It was here that we spent our energy. The number of Solomon’s stalls (1 Kings 4:26; 2 Chron. 9:25) did not have any impact on my life.

Certainly not as much as present situations such as divorce or whether to call an opponent a name. What I did is pursue the Bible (remember, this GOD speaking!) to its lengths in order to resolve what it was God was declaring me to do. Not what God was saying as to Solomon’s stalls. It is easiest to show what I meant by using those two examples…


If you read much of my writing, you will see me, at times, refer to my former belief as “fundamentalist,” sometimes “conservative,” sometimes “Christian.” I am never sure quite the “package” I fit in. On some things, I would be considered quite liberal, on others I would be far more right than fundamentalists. Because I was not trying to conform my beliefs to any particular doctrine—I was conforming my beliefs to the Bible.

The churches I attended held that a person could divorce if their spouse committed adultery, and that upon divorce (regardless of the reason) the “hurt” or “innocent” party was free to re-marry. These are fundamentalist institutions.

After my study, I became convinced that the Bible teaches that no Christian may ever institute a divorce under any circumstances. Ever. If, however, a Christian did become divorced, they may only re-marry under two circumstances—if the divorce was initiated by an unbelieving spouse, OR if the divorce was caused by pornea. (Greek word.) Unfortunately, what pornea. is, exactly, is not…quite…clear.

Needless to say, I was involved in many a doctrinal fight with my fundamentalist co-horts, in which I was more conservative than they were! (Wow.) It would be instructive to demonstrate my thinking in this regard.

God hates divorce. Malachi 2:16. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. Rom. 7:2. A woman must not separate from her husband. A husband must not divorce his wife. 1 Cor. 7:10. A believer cannot divorce an unbeliever. 1 Cor. 7:12-13. Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. Any woman who divorces her husband and marries another commits adultery. Mark 10:11. Luke 16:18.

If we stopped there, there would be little question. Divorce is forbidden. However, Matthew throws a wrench into the works. Matthew says that anyone who divorces his wife, except for pornea and marries another commits adultery. Matt. 5:32; 19:9.

(Don’t you hate those pastors that all of sudden pull out some Greek word and explain it as if our translators couldn’t figure out the interpretation, but HE (with the help of Strong’s, of course) is able to give us enlightenment as to how our English version is incorrect? So why, in true hypocritical fashion, am I referring to the Greek word? The problem is that moichao is the Greek word for adultery. In both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, Jesus uses BOTH words, saying “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for pornea and marries another commits moichao.” Mark 7:21 also lists both words, in the same verse. If God’s word, and Jesus himself, distinctly utilizes the two words, even within the same sentence, they must mean something different. You will often hear people say that one can get divorced for adultery. NIV even translates it that way. I figured if Jesus (God) makes the distinction—so should I.)

Now we start dealing with an apparent contradiction. It is here Christians debated “inerrancy.” Not archeological issues with Exodus. Nope—how do we handle the prevalence of divorce in both our society and church?

Most Christians I dealt with simply presumed Matthew “trumps” Mark, Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians and Malachi, providing an “out” for divorce through pornea. Whatever pornea is, it certainly included having an affair, so this seemed to be a simple enough solution. Tidy enough—one can get divorced if their spouse has an affair. (And a mention that under Mosaic Law, they would be dead anyway, so this is an “apparent” aligning with Romans 7. ‘Course we aren’t under Mosaic law. Little Problem.)

My problem is that this renders Mark, Luke, Romans, etc. as invalid. Is there a way to both keep them intact AND match up Matthew? But my problem was even worse…

We were taught, under the doctrine of original sin, that we were unholy creatures. That even our best efforts were the equivalent of “dirty rags” as compared to God’s holiness. Isaiah 64:6. We are so evil and immoral that God would be completely justified in tossing us in the Lake of Fire forever! I don’t know how bad you have ever been, but if the punishment fits the crime, this would make us really, really, really, REALLY rotten!

Yet as rotten and horrible as that is, Jesus loved us enough to die for us. Despite our infractions against Him and His Justice, he humbled himself to the point of performing the greatest sacrifice ever committed in the entire course of the universe’s history. (Phil. 2:5-11)

O.K. Do you have it? Perhaps an inkling as to the self-sacrifice that Jesus did for humanity? Ephesians 5:25-30 says that I must love my wife in the exact same way that Jesus loved us. How in the blue blazes could I honestly claim that, if my wife had an affair, I am “loving” her in the same way Jesus loved us by divorcing here? We have had countless affairs, and numerous other loves—did he divorce us?

Every time I was told that a person could divorce their spouse for having an affair, I would ask, “Can you explain how that would be the equivalent of Jesus loving us? Can you explain how that conforms to Ephesians 5?”

A quick reminder—the Bible was the word of God. While numerous authors wrote it, it was inspired by a single source. To me, this meant in some way, Matthew 5 & 19 must line up with Malachi 2:16, Rom. 7:2, 1 Cor. 7:10, Mark 10:1, Luke 16:18, Eph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:18 and 1 Peter 2:18-3:7. If I simply ignored Matthew, I would be just as guilty of those who ignored those passages. I would be using them to “trump” Matthew, like they used Matthew to “trump” them.

The only foreseeable solution was that Matthew was discussing remarriage. Not divorce. Matthew was in full agreement divorce was never an option. However, if it did occur, we now have two divorced people. The question before us was whether these two people could be re-married. The way to determine was to look back at the causes of the divorce. If it was pornea according to Matthew (or an unbeliever filing the divorce according to Paul) then, and only then, would it be acceptable to remarry.

While this left the troubling question of why Mark and Luke did not include this exception, but we have varying statements of Jesus on the cross between the Gospels, too. Figured the authors did not include everything Jesus said, and this was one more occurrence.

More importantly, it kept intact the love/submission requirements of Ephesians, Colossians and 1 Peter. It preserved the essence of God’s hating divorce.

Christians could not file divorce. Ever. If they were divorced, we looked back on what caused the divorce. Two situations would allow remarriage. All others would not.

I was asked, “What if they didn’t start the divorce, the divorce was not out of sexual issues, and the spouse who started the divorce is now remarried? Can the ‘innocent’ party get remarried?” My answer? To be consistent, I had to say, “No. There is no such thing as ‘innocent’ party according to the Bible. It is clear that we look at two things, and two things ONLY. If it does not qualify, this person can never remarry. Perhaps that is why the disciples were so shocked at the stringent requirements of Jesus in Matt. 19:10-12.”

(Just so you know, this only came up in those fun doctrinal discussions late at night. If I was talking to a person who was divorced, or was facing this situation, I kept my mouth shut. Regardless of my position on divorce, I figured “Love one another” required me to keep this particular belief quiet!)

I observed Christians wanting the verses to say something different. They wanted adultery to be an acceptable reason for divorce. They wanted a “hurt” party to be free to remarry. They wanted reasons to get a divorce. I recognized the inherent bias causing them to resolve a contradiction in their favor.

I could see they were resolving this contradiction, not by following the actual facts and what was in front of them, with the most plausible solution, but with desire and feeling, and prejudice based upon their situation. Little was I to know this was going to bite me back HARD someday when I saw myself doing the same thing with skeptics on the factual contradictions…

I had already been fully immersed in it on the doctrinal issues, and accused others of doing something. While one finger was pointing toward them, four fingers were pointed right back at me.

Calling a Pharisee a name

At this point, it should be clear I disagree with the methodology that picks and chooses. I wanted a doctrine that conformed to ALL of the Bible. That would satisfy EVERY verse—not simply a justification for what I want to do.

Can I call my religious opponent a “pompous ass” according to the Bible?

No unwholesome talk should come out of my mouth, but only what is helpful for building up others, according to their needs. Eph. 4:29. Do what leads to peace mutual edification. Rom. 14:19. Titus 3:2. 1 Cor. 14:26. 1 Thess. 5:11.

Person A: You are a pompous ass.
Person B: Thank you! I was considering opposing you, but your kind instruction has brought peace between us. This was exactly what I needed. I feel so much more edified.

Are we kidding ourselves? There is also a humorous take on this—according to Phil. 2:3 we should, in humility, consider others better than ourselves. If I call another a pompous ass, and they are better than me, that makes me…

Does anyone want to be called a pompous ass? Really? Honestly? Then how can we “do to others what you would like have done to you” and call someone that? Matt. 7:12

Jesus requires so much love for our enemies (let alone our friends) that we should give to anyone who asks, if they sue you, give them MORE than they asked for, and if they demand from you, give them MORE than they demand. Matt. 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-36. Jesus requires us Christians (at least) to love each other as much as he loves them. John 13:34-35.

Do I need to repeat how much Jesus loved Christians? He died for you! Do you realize you are claiming you must be willing to die for a pompous ass? Does it make sense I could consider someone of such value I would be willing to give up my life, my life with my spouse, my life with my children for them, yet also consider them a pompous ass?

Come on—who is kidding who?

But, but, but…

We then have the famous passages where Jesus calls the Pharisees, scribes and Lawyers white-washed tombs, snakes, and vipers. Matthew 23; Luke 11:37-54. The argument is very simple—if Jesus (who never sinned) did it, then I can do it and not sin. The problem is that it makes a leap in methodology the same Christian would refuse to do elsewhere.

Premise One: Every action Jesus did was loving.
Premise Two: Jesus called the Pharisees “snakes.”
Conclusion: Jesus calling the Pharisees “snakes” was loving.

Fairly straightforward, correct? Makes sense. There is one problem—the person making this claim is NOT trying to justify Jesus calling the Pharisees a snake—they are attempting to justify themselves calling someone else a “pompous ass.”

See, the ONLY conclusion that necessarily follows from the premise is that Jesus was loving in calling Pharisees a snake. It says nothing about what we can call someone else. What the person is actually attempting to do is this:

Premise One: Every action Jesus did was loving.
Premise Two: Jesus called the Pharisees “snakes.”
Conclusion Two: I can call someone else a “pompous ass” and be loving.

Do you see the extraordinary leap made in conclusion two?

Yet, if I ignore the name-calling by Jesus, I would be equally guilty of ignoring verses or trying to trump one verse with another. Is there a solution whereby we can follow Eph. 4:29, Rom. 14:19, Titus 3:2,. 1 Cor. 14:26, 1 Thess. 5:11, Phil. 2:3, Matt. 5 and Luke 6, yet explain Jesus in Matthew 23 and Luke 11?

Certainly. Jesus was God. He can perform acts which appear to be unloving to our human eyes, but in reality actually are. What we need to do is follow his commandments, as laid out in the Bible, rather than attempt to justify it with “God can do it, so I can to.” Just because Jesus did it, does not mean I can.

Pretty weak, eh? Seems like…well.. a bit of a cop out. I would agree too, but this is the same method Christians use on other claims! If we use it elsewhere, why not here as well? Going back to our premise/conclusions:

Premise One: Every action Jesus did was loving.
Premise Two: Jesus ordered the genocide of the Midianites. Numbers 31
Conclusion One: Jesus ordering the genocide of the Midianites was loving.

But if we used the same Conclusion Two that the Christian wants to draw in the case of Jesus’ name-calling we end up with:

Premise One: Every action Jesus did was loving.
Premise Two: Jesus ordered the genocide of the Midianites. Numbers 31
Conclusion Two: I can order genocide and be loving.

Scary! No Christian holds to that! No, what we hear is, while genocide is normally not loving, but in the instances recorded in the Tanakh, these were special instances in which genocide WAS loving. And how do we know that? Because Jesus did it, and everything that Jesus did was loving.

Why is this same excuse (Jesus did it in a special circumstance, but we cannot) readily acceptable when it comes to genocide, but immediately tossed out the window when we want to call someone a name?

Again, what I saw were people attempting to justify what they wanted to do, so they used verses of Jesus’ action to “trump” the other verses that clearly counter calling someone a “pompous ass.” And I would ask (again) how they can do that, yet not violate Eph. 4:29, Rom. 14:19, Phil 2:3 and Matt. 7:12? They can’t! The easiest solution is to do what God says we do, not what God does.

Part of the reason my deconversion happened over such a short period (a matter of months) is that I had been having the same arguments for years. It was with other Christians over doctrinal issues as compared to skeptics over factual issues. But underneath I saw the same problems at play.

Because of some of the responses to the last chapter, I thought I would make a parenthetical chapter explaining how I treated the Bible. I wanted every action I made to conform to every verse. Not just the ones I wanted, to the exclusion of those that did not support what I wanted to do…

Chapter 5

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In Which we Learn that Casey Sometimes Strikes Out

Our church joined inter-church sports. Leagues, with uniforms and rosters and brackets and eventual championship tournaments at the end of the season. I don’t know how familiar you are with inter-church sports, but imagine a typical city league. Only with prayer right before the bloodbath began.

We had rivalries as fierce as can be imagined. (And yes, Sunday Morning announcements or the church bulletin would likely include a mention of scores of certain games.) We had fights. Suspensions. Vicious games in which umpires and referees were forced to tell spectators to leave.

All in the spirit of good “Christian fun.” We couldn’t help it if the other team needed to be “informed” once in a while. We were simply admonishing and “encouraging” our fellow Christians to be better people. They needed to learn to lose. Teach ‘em some humility.

Our church concentrated on softball. We had a Class “A” Men’s team, a Class “B” Men’s team, and a Women’s Team. On more than one occasion our “A” Team played the “B” Team for the championship. Our Women’s Team was considered the one to beat during the season (although they could never quite seem to win the Championship.)

In my early Twenties, for some inexplicable reason since I totally stink at softball, I tried out for the Men’s Team. It was immediately evident that I would not be making the “A” Team. By the end of the first practice, it was equally evident I would be spending most (if not all) of my time warming the bench for the “B” Team. Perhaps if my church had enough players for a “C,” “D” and “E” team, I would have a shot at some at-bats! However, they needed a coach for the Women’s Team. Realizing it would be better to be involved than sit like a lump, I volunteered. (Once again proving the adage—“Those who can’t; teach.”)

They didn’t really need a coach. They knew (and played) their positions better than I. They switched around my proposed batting order as they saw fit. All I did was shout and pretend to look like I was in charge of something. Occasionally they took my directions to boost my ego. And we started beating the other teams. Bad. Our league had a skunk rule of ending the game after the 5th inning if you were leading the other team by 15 points. We tried to get to skunk as quickly as possible, and then run up the score.

We yelled at the other teams. Screamed at the horrible calls of the umpires. Chattered, mocked, laughed, cat-called, and had a wonderful time. For us. Because this is what Church Softball was like. It was the way it had always been played. It was the way the other teams played us.

After a typical performance by our crew, mostly me--including the attitude, ridicule, complaints and generally poor display of humanity while trouncing the enemy…er…”opponent,”--some players from the other team approached me.

Players: Can we ask you something?
Me: Sure. [Hey, it was after the game. Now we all put back on our “We-are-in-this-together.” After destroying them, they were no longer “the enemy.”]

Players: Are you a Christian?

If they had struck me in the stomach with a bat at full swing, I could not have received a greater surprise. As I type this, almost 20 years later, I can still picture their faces, the location on their softball diamond, next to the bench, even the direction I was facing. I was stunned.

Me: Of…course….why do you ask? [But I didn’t really have to ask. I knew exactly what they were talking about.]

Players: Because of how you acted out there—we can’t help but wonder. Are you a Christian?

I mumbled some innocuous statement and wandered to my car in complete shock. I got into my car, put my head in my hands, and started to cry. No one was around. No one needed to give me chapter and verse as to what they meant, or what I had been doing incorrectly, or what needed to be done. The point was poignantly and precisely made.

Who cares about some silly score, or a dusty trophy in a forgotten case at the back of the church? Was my God smiling at my win-loss record? Was this what Christianity had come down to? Beating other Baptists to “glorify God?”

At the next practice, we literally had a “Come-to-Jesus” meeting. I apologized for my rotten attitude, and said, “No More. Regardless of wins or losses or whatever, we are going to start loving one another.” And we did. We began to encourage the other team. “Great Hit!” “Good Throw.” If it was close, we agreed to be “Out.” We played everybody where they wanted to play—not just the good players. We no longer had Benchwarmers.

We hugged the other team before, during and after the game. If they were short players, we loaned ‘em a few. We even turned a few games into “scrimmages” where we mixed up the teams, and didn’t bother to keep score! At first everyone met our new-found attitude with a great deal of trepidation. “What tricks are they up to now? Are they mocking us?” But over time, we changed from the team that everyone hated to the team that everyone loved. (If this was a movie, I would tell you that because of our wonderfully new perspective on life, God rewarded us with a championship. Alas, we still lost that year after year.)

I vowed to never, NEVER act in such a way that another person would feel it necessary to ask me, “Are you a Christian?”

Growing up Baptist, one thing you were constantly and pervasively aware of was sin. Smoking was a sin. Smoking was a gateway drug to drinking alcohol. Alcohol inhibited your prohibitions, which led to sex.

PDA (Public display of Affection) was not allowed. Although not technically a sin, it led to dancing, which most certainly, absolutely was a sin. ‘Cause dancing led directly to sex.

Because one only danced to Rock-n-Roll…drums were a sin. I remember going to countless conferences about all the sayings that were imprinting on our brain by virtue of playing records backward revealing the words “The Devil Has Your Soul.” (Or “Shelia has a big mole”--we never could quite tell.) I must embarrassingly admit that these meetings made such a lasting impression on me that even today; every time I hear “Hotel California” the first thought that immediately passes through my mind is that the Church of Satan started in ’69. No joke.

Running in the sanctuary was a sin. Calling an adult by their first name was a sin. Girls wearing a skirt that was shorter than 3 inches below the knee was a sin. Two-piece bathing suits were a sin.

And we tried to see how close we could come to sinning, without quite crossing the line. We measured those skirts. 3 inches—you’re o.k. 2.99 inches—ring the bell, we have a sinner! We listened to “Christian” Rock-n-Roll and clapped our hands. But no devil music and no dancing! We held hands under the table, ‘cause that is not technically “Public” Display of Affection.

We learned this from our adults. It was O.K. to be angry, just until sunset. (Eph. 4:26.) You need to give to the church (Mark 12:42) but not too much! (1 Peter 4:10; 1 Timothy 5:8) We concentrated our study to make sure we knew exactly what “sin” was, so we would not, inadvertently, fall into it. We could come close, but as long as we did not cross that important line, we were fine.

Some of our most cherished questions and study were on the “gray” areas of what sin was and what was not. (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 6:12-15 & 10:23-33)

After that fateful question, “Are you a Christian?” I realized I blew it. I didn’t get the “sin” thing at all, and for foreseeable future of my life, I was not going to get it correctly. Regardless of who can swim with whom wearing what, I was blowing the most basic, simplest element of Christianity. Love one another. (John 13:34). Love your enemy. (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:35)

Taking just Luke 6:35, we could drop the entire rest of the Bible, and I would STILL sin. Lend without expecting anything in return? Love your enemy to the point you would die for them? (Let alone help them across the street, care for their sick child, read to them when they can no longer see…)

From that day on, I concentrated on one sin—failing to love other people. Sure, I was convicted of others. I got drunk. I gossiped. I was contentious, proud, angry, spiteful. And I repented, and attempted to grow with God’s help. But the one thing I kept on the fore-front of my mind was that I was going to blow loving one another, and what I could do to prevent it.

As for my faith, I was always puzzled about the statement, “Let go and Let God.” I could never figure out how people actually did that. I used to laughingly, (but accurately) state that after I had tried everything possible, I gave it to God to find a solution. Unless I thought of another resolution, in which case I would inquire, “God, can I have that back for a second? I want to try just one more thing and then you can have it!”

There were times that God seemed to miraculously provide, when I thought there was no hope. A timely phone call from a friend. A fortuitous trip that netted unexpected results. But to be blunt, much of the time I figured God wanted us to work on our own life. Sure, He was helping in some indeterminable way—perhaps providing a boost of patience when I needed it, or a word of encouragement. An appropriate seminar, book or verse at the right moment, due to God’s working quietly “behind the scene.” Yet in the end we had the responsibility of making the right choice.

Some things I did get that God must have intervened. I was uncertain how I could handle my mother’s death, yet God seemed to sustain me. My inability to find substantial income for a period of time, yet God apparently provided. The discovery of a woman who matched EXACTLY what I need (and didn’t even know I needed!). Surely God must have been intimately involved in that.

However, I had bank accounts. I worried. I fretted. I failed in letting God “do his thing” and tried to manage on my own. I failed to love other people like I should have. Despite my vow, I am certain that someone must have seen some act I had done and thought, “Is he a Christian?”

One of the most common things to hear as a deconvert is “You were not a true Christian.” As to the technical requirements of confessing Jesus and believing He was raised from the dead (Rom. 10:9) I would argue vociferously with a person who makes that claim. Whether they believe me or not; I was absolutely as true a Christian as one could find.

As to the actual living out a Christian life? Even as a Christian, as much as it would pain me, and bring back a vivid image of a softball diamond on a sunny evening, I would sigh and have to agree; I was not a true Christian. I worried. Matt. 6:25-28. I owned cars, houses, stocks and bank accounts. Luke 12:16-31. I complained. Philippians 2:14. I did not tame my tongue. James 3:4-6. I was proud. James 4:6. And most reprehensibly, the one thing I worked on, the one thing I concentrated on, I still failed by not loving others. I even failed at loving my own wife—the one person it should have been easiest to love! Ephesians 5:25.

So what does this have to do with deconversion? Because we are a fact-laden society, we often focus on names, dates and specific events. We can tend to recount our own history with date of birth, name of our first-grade teacher, and so on. Yet, as we all know, that is not the entire picture. We are not the sum of events.

As a Christian, I was concentrating on…well…being a Christian. I wasn’t studying and re-studying theological minutia. I was not joining archeological digs in the Sinai Peninsula to bolster the story of Exodus. I was not pouring over manuscripts in the basements of university Libraries—I was working on one small, minor point. Until I learned how to love others, I figured the rest could probably wait.

Many deconversion stories understandably focus on what philosophical doctrine, or Biblical difficulty caused the person to re-think. Mine will too. Eventually. *grin* Or others indicate some emotional event that brought a new perspective on the realities of their belief.

But for a moment, I want to pause and say that for me, I was not looking for some out. I was not looking for some deep philosophical support for my Christianity and went looking in the wrong bars. My deconversion story has to include a Christianity that was more than just a set of facts, figures and theologically “correct” dogma. The vast majority of Christianity, to me, was doing one thing right.

So, if you are reading this anxiously looking for what I did not get “correct” about Christianity—look no further. Regrettably, both then and now, I would have to concede I did not get “Love one another” correct.

Chapter 4

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In Which We Learn that Tevye Knew a thing or Two about Traditions

I started attending church when I was six weeks old. There was never even a hint of choice in the matter. It was what we did. Because of my early start, the Christian God was as much truth to me as the sun rising—it simply was. If someone thought otherwise, they were not in touch with reality.

As we view our upbringing within our society, certain ideas and concepts become ingrained in us. When joining a line, you started at the back. You did not randomly join in the middle somewhere. No one had to explain that to us—we observed, incorporated and acted upon that observation. We all think we are entitled to “fair.” We all think “dirty” is bad and “clean” is good. No one prefers public restrooms.

My parents did not have to sit me down and patiently explain, “Look, we would like you to attend Elementary School, so that you have sufficient knowledge to meet the requirements of High School. You need High School knowledge in order to obtain entry in college. A college degree will be necessary for you to become a professional and have a career so that you can support a family. How does that sound? Is that O.K. with you?” No argumentation, debate or discussion was ever necessary. It was what was expected of us, and to contemplate otherwise would be madness.

Likewise, my parents certainly never explained there were a variety of theistic beliefs, and while they preferred a Baptist, Fundamentalist, Calvinistic version of the Christian Abrahamic sort, the choice was up to me as to which (if any) I determined was correct. Hardy Har Har.

As I grew up, I attended school during the week and learned the reality of English and Math and History as it conformed to the world. On the weekend I attended Sunday School and Bible Class and equally learned the reality of God, and the Hebrews and Jesus and doctrine as it conformed to the world. Just as, in school, one quickly realized that there would always be more Math and more History, and one would never know everything there was to know about a subject, we realized the same limitation about our Christian God.

On Friday I learned George Washington was the first U.S. President. On Sunday I learned Jesus walked on the water. Both were historical truisms, locked into my tiny brain.

We went to Sunday School, so that when we became young adults, we would be equipped to teach Sunday School. We taught Sunday School so that when we became middle-aged, we would be the deacon/deaconess on the Sunday School Committee. Bringing our children to Sunday School to learn, just as we did, and eventually become teachers and deacons.

We learned the Bible. We never questioned its authority. That would be as silly as questioning our school textbooks. We presumed it was divine, just like our parents did, our teachers did, and our classmates did.

I was trouble when it came to Sunday School from the very first. Did you ever do sword drills? It is where you hold up your Bible with one hand, a person calls out a verse, ”Matthew 5:22!” and immediately everyone tries to be the first to find it. If you were, you got to stand up and start reading it (to prove you had found it, of course.) Then you got to call out a verse and so on. I was fast. Which meant I pretty much alternated calling out verses. They tried my holding the Bible in my left hand. Still won. Upside down and left hand. No change. Sitting on it—still prevailed.

And when I called out verses: None of those easy Gospels. Nope. Went right to the Minor prophets, of course. Good ol’ Nahum brought ‘em to a crashing halt. (My discovery of 1 Sam 25:22 and Song of Solomon 4:5 ended my career as a caller. Bible drills began to fade after that.)

We had BMA. Bible Memory Association. Each year, you would start with an age appropriate book of verses (sentences for first graders, chapters for adults) and each week you would memorize an allotted section, recite it to a designated monitor, and receive a prize if you completed your book. In my family, it was expected you finished your book. I do not recall a single family member (including myself) who did not finish their book. To this day, if asked to recite a verse, 99 times out of 100, I would do so in King James Version, thanks to BMA.

We had Awana. This was a combination of learning verses, physical games, a lesson, and doing Boy Scout-type activities. Again, there were books that needed completing. Again, it was expected we would finish our books. I wish I could report that I did so—but that would not be honest. I hated the knot-tying and fire-starting, or whatever. I finished the verse sections quickly. The rest held no interest for me.

We had Vacation Bible School. In looking back, it seems there wasn’t a program out there that we Baptists wouldn’t embrace!

Please understand, I am not recounting all this to impress upon the world how much of the Bible I learned. While I did this, so did my parents, my brothers and my sister. So did my friends, their siblings and their parents. Tradition. I do not look back and think, “Wow, what a lot of Bible study I did”—no, I look back and shrug; it was what we all did. It was what was expected of us. Brush your teeth and learn your verse.

However, if there was one area that I was a bit different is that I would actually look up the verses cited by our teachers. If they said, “Matthew 5:22 says…” I would be looking up Matthew 5:22, and its context, before accepting their particular take on the subject. Most of my friends (and, regrettably, most church goers that I know) do not do this. They take the word of whoever is speaking, without bothering to question it. (Is this the first crack in the veneer, perhaps?)

In doing so, I began to realize how many times the teacher would get it wrong. I was an arrogant, smug, little egotist, that was more impressed with me than I should have been, so I would carefully point out that they must mean a different reference, or that what they were saying did not fit the context, or how do they explain another verse that seemed to say something different. I am sure they loved me for that! (That was sarcastic, in case you didn’t notice.)

As I say, I was seen as a bit of trouble. I only became worse as I became older. By the time I was a teenager, I would watch their eyes roll as soon as they saw my hand go up. What I didn’t realize then, but understand now in hindsight, was that I was discovering the contradictory nature of the Bible. How can we have Free Will AND be elect? If they wanted to talk on Freedom of Choice, I would point out Rom. 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:5-11. If they wanted Election, I would question how we would be held responsible if we had no choice. Romans 9.

If they wanted to talk about sin, I would point out love (Luke 6:27). Talk about love, I would point out judgment. Rom. 2:1-3 and 1 Cor. 6:1-3. Talk about Judgment, I would question how we can. Matthew 7:1-2. And yes, I was doing it to be a sanctimonious jerk, not out of any real interest in the subject. My only excuse is that I was a teenager. We are ALL jerks as teenagers!

I still thought the Bible was divine. I still thought, for the most part, it could be reconciled. The items that were not resolved could be explained away under the awesome over-reaching intelligence and difference that is God. Look, I didn’t understand Quantum Physics. It only makes sense that a creature infinitely more intelligent than the brightest physicist could understand how Free Will and Election, a seeming paradox, was not. I rested in the fact that we did the best we could with the Bible we had, and when we discovered we were wrong, come heaven, this should not be a surprise.

By teenage years, and up through adulthood, the biggest problem with Sunday School is boredom. I know that is not the “politically correct” thing to say, and I should be making some theological point of people who do not have the gift of teaching should not be Sunday School teachers—but I have been there. You can’t kid me.

Many Sunday School classes are b-o-r-i-n-g. At least with me, there was the hope it could be less boring. I introduced the “other” side. I made people think. One Sunday School teacher told me (many years later) that upon requesting to teach my class, he was specifically warned about me. “Do you want that class?…has him in it.” He laughed. We got along fabulously. Why? Because it was not boring.

By my college years, I had matured. Somewhat. I was no longer interested in “showing up” the teacher, as much as how to resolve what the Bible was trying to say. How to actually work with a God interacting in my life. I started enjoying the discussion to get other people’s views on the topic. How do they resolve “putting God first” when their schedule is so busy. How do they show love to a homosexual? How would they implement Luke 6?

There is only one thing to do with a person like me—make me a Sunday School teacher, of course! For the last 15 or 16 years of my church life, I taught a variety of ages in either Sunday School or Small groups. Yes, sometimes I was boring too. (And, to destroy the concept of “fate”—I never recall a person like me in any of my classes.)

My last teaching position was with 4-5 year olds. I was teaching the same stories, with the same feelings of truisms that I had as a child. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There is so much in the Bible that can be told, and that is an age where it is all so new. My..uh..reenactment of David killing Goliath (he cut off his head with Goliath’s own sword, ya know), was remembered for months and months after.

We were given strict guidelines and strict materials to follow. We could only use the “church-approved” books. When I started the series on miracles, the first lesson was on Jesus turning water into wine.

Water into wine? These were Baptist kids—most of them had no clue what wine even was! Further, at 4-5, their concept of how one obtains something is by opening the refrigerator or turning on the tap, it “miraculously” is there. Out of all the miracles that they could pick—this one?

Fearing boredom, I went to the healing of the paralytic by the friends lowering him through the roof. More graphic, more interesting, and far more crafts to instill the story. Went on-line, obtained some free pictures to color, drew up the story, made the craft (a bed through a roof, of course) and we went off-course from the “church-approved” material.

It seems that even as a teacher, Sunday School was trouble for me. Word got back to the Head of the children’s department. I had NOT used the approved material and (gasp!) had made up material of my own. A meeting was held. The Head confronted me, with the Chairperson of the Education Committee, as to my indiscretion.

Head: Is it true that you did NOT use the approved material?
Me: Yes.
Head: And where did you get your material from?
Me: This. [Holding up my Bible.]

Silence while the Chairperson slowly turned red, trying to hold in her guffaws.

Me: Is this church-approved material?
Head: Why…you…that…[sputtering]
Chairperson: [trying not to burst out laughing] Yes, the Bible is still considered approved.

They left me alone after that. Wise.

I understand that people may be looking for the deconverting part. You may be inclined to skip ahead, searching for some specific doctrine, or argument or event which moved me from being a Christian.

But in trying to put together my story, as fascinating as that may be, [more of that sarcasm here] I fear that some essence would be missing. Those who know me in real life do not need to hear this. They know me. My family knows this.

Every single muscle, vein, drop and atom within my body lived and breathed Christianity. It was who I was. It defined me as much as “male” does. And to truly understand that, I may belabor the point of my upbringing.

This was who I was. My feet walked to church, not because I felt some fear of hell, or because my parents did or some promise of reward. I did it because it was correct. Truth. If all you want is the cold, hard facts of “What happened when” then you will never understand that losing Christianity was the equivalent of tearing my heart out and watching it stop beating in my hands.

Without Christ, I was no longer who I was. Like Tevye, becoming ungrounded without his tradition—to lose Jesus was to lose everything.

Chapter 3

Monday, September 17, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In Which We Test Limits

So. How does a nice Christian boy, who loves God, the Bible and Christianity come to be an atheist in a matter of a few months? You would think something terrible must have occurred, or some hitherto unknown flaw in character appeared. Yet looking back, I see none of those things. It may be, in my sharing this with you, we can discover together where it is I went horribly awry.

This is my tale.

The trouble is always—Where to begin? I cannot think of a better place than a sunny day at an amusement park. If you live within four hours or so of Northern Ohio, you know exactly the one of which I speak: Cedar Point. It seems every church within that distance would take at least one day out of the summer, collect the pre-teen and teenage kids and troop off for a day of roller coasters, spinning rides, and, if one timed their lunch and certain rides correctly, projectile vomiting. (I know this for a fact.)

Our day was Memorial Day. It was a rite of passage when one reached the age whereby you were “old enough” to go to Cedar Point. Being a small, country church, there was no budget for buses or vans. We would coerce some adult chaperons, and car pool in three or four automobiles. Meeting at the church at some ungodly early hour, we traveled together in a line with our lights on to let the world know we were convoying.

Since this was long before cell phones or walkie-talkies, we developed a complicated system to communicate from car to car. It basically consisted of honking the horns, flashing the lights and waiving one’s arms out the window which meant, (alternatively) “We better pull over at the next rest stop or else there will be some people arriving not smelling very fresh” or “Aren’t we having a blast, and we can’t wait to get there, and why are you stopping at this rest stop coming up?” We would arrive at the amusement park, meet together for a sack lunch at the pavilion, and then converge together again at 7 p.m. to once again car pool back.

James, Steven and I had finally reached the age that qualified to go on the Cedar Point trip. We were 12, and (respectively) a p.k., a d.k. and a d.k. For those familiar with American Baptist fundamentalists, those initials say a whole lot. A “P.K.” meant you were a pastor’s kid, and a “D.K.” meant you were a deacon’s kid. Being a p.k. (or d.k.) insured that you would be in the choir that was appropriate for your age, you were available for a speaking part in the Easter and Christmas pageant, you helped out the Seniors in the Spring and Fall, and you attended every Sunday School, Church service, Prayer meeting, Business meeting, and Meetings to set up meetings.

Your parents were friends. You helped them with their pastor/deacon duties, or mowing the church lawn or racking the church leaves. And, if there was trouble or shenanigans or (gasp!) sin—you were certain to be in the middle of it.

Three was the perfect number. If someone was reluctant to carry out a particularly evil plot, the other two would be sure to encourage (i.e. bully) the third to join in. My personal opinion has always been that the p.k.’s were a little worse sinners than the d.k.’s. I have been informed that I may be a teensy bit bias in that regard.

And so the three of us spent a happy day at the amusement park, ogling girls that were way out of our league, riding rides that were only partially out of our league and, as previously mentioned, testing the theory as to how much centrifugal force was required before we could have an opportunity to see our lunch again.

This was way too much fun to stop at 7:00 p.m. so we came up with a plan. It was as foolproof as a 12-year-old boys’ plan can be. We would set our sole watch back one hour, claim we did not know it had been set incorrectly and voila!—an extra hour of cotton candy, hot dogs and rides. It worked perfectly. Well… as perfectly as a 12-year-old’s plan can. We stayed toward the back of the park, riding the rides as far away from the entrance as possible (to avoid stumbling on the rest of the crew) and, at about 7:50 p.m. began walking toward the front.

The group had already left at 7:30 p.m. (mad for having to wait for us) and left a single driver back, in case we happened to show up. There he was, tapping his foot, not very happy. We put on our innocent faces, provided the required “bad watch” story and waited to see if he would buy it. I doubt he did. But he didn’t say anything, just gave us the “I’m disappointed in you” look and bundled us in the car.

Because we didn’t have to travel in that car pool, he put the pedal to the metal, sneakily passed them and arrived back at the church before the rest of them did. They were still mad. They didn’t buy the “bad watch” story at all. We were yelled at, informed we were inconsiderate, and there was serious consideration of banning us from the Cedar Point trip.

That was next year. This year we had gotten an extra hour of rides. And a shorter trip back. And every other kid was looking at us with a hint of jealousy.

That was God to me as I grew up.

He was a creature that had clearly set the rules. Leave by 7:00 p.m. He was somebody that knew we would not always like the rules. By virtue of being human, it was ingrained in us to attempt to rebel against those rules. If left to our natural devices, we would always do so. And, it was almost part of our duty, to come up with an excuse for why it was acceptable to rebel. A bad watch.

He was also someone that loved us. Despite our breaking the rules He clearly set, he would not abandon us in an Amusement Park. He wouldn’t leave us. Even as we broke his rules, we knew we were in no danger of permanent harm.

We would tell God our excuse first. We knew, in the pit our stomach, that he wouldn’t buy it. He was too smart. But it seemed to be part of the ritual we must follow. He would give us the “I am disappointed in you” look (in heaven, of course). We would then legitimately apologize.

Then he would take us back, ruffle our hair, and laugh with a “You rascal you.” See, we secretly figured God always kinda liked the rebel. He must have been bored with all those goody-two-shoes adults, with their prim and proper ways.

Look at who He favored in those Bible stories. Moses, David, Daniel, John the Baptist. They sure seemed pretty rebellious, and they were God’s favorites. And don’t forget Jesus himself rebelling against the authorities. Besides, if he didn’t like the troublemakers, why make so many p.k.’s and d.k.’s?

It was a simple system for a child. We were informed to not run in the sanctuary. So we didn’t. Unless no one else was around—and then it was relay races using a hymnal for a baton. When my friend slammed his head into a pew, taking a corner too fast, that was God saying, “Time to stop, boys.” We said we were sorry, God winked, and until next Sunday we didn’t run in the sanctuary. When, if no one got hurt, maybe God was saying it was O.K….

Chapter 2

Friday, September 14, 2007

Harm. Foul.

While internet wandering, I happened across two situations. At ”a Longmire Rambles” JD Longmire talked of being kicked off a Christian forum board for daring to offer a contrary opinion on the extremely controversial topic of solos in church.

In a completely unrelated note, at Moral Science Club Jim Jordan discussed how poorly Christians treated a former pastor who had an affair.

Both situations reminded me of how we view Christians treating each other so harshly. We have all heard the phrase, “The Christian Army is the only one that kills their own wounded.” As a Christian, it often stunned me how fellow Christians would not speak to each other, or would deliberately sit on opposite sides of the church, or would gossip and tear to shreds one another. Even then, I thought, “Come ON! We are supposed to be on the same side, here.”

As a heathen, I am treated in roughly the same manner. Some Christians display charity towards me, others….well… others do not. None of this should come as a surprise. Christianity is a group of people, and—like any other grouping of people, consists of good people, bad people, kind people, mean people and about every personality, make-up and disposition that can be imagined.

Even though it does not come as a surprise—it still is. It would appear that we, including both Christians and non-Christians, expect more from Christians. We expect them to be different. When a corporate CEO is discovered as having embezzled from the company, we sigh with the though of “yet another.” But if it is a Christian, or a Christian company, or a Christian in a church, our eyebrows go up just a bit higher, and we are surprised that a Christian (of all people) would do such a thing.

As I was listening to Dr. Mohler talk about the upcoming elections, on the radio, a caller stated that he would ONLY vote for a Christian. If I called in and stated I would ONLY vote for an atheist, I suspect that many theists would find this close-minded. Yet there is something more. There is a perception that Christians are good people, so not only am I close-minded, there is a hint that it is not wise to vote for a non-Christian. They are not…quite…trustworthy.

(And if you don’t believe that, who is the last Republican or Democrat candidate for President that declared they are not a Christian of some sort?)

I confess it is disconcerting that what is surprising in a Christian, is expected in me. If I undercut, or lie or cheat or steal—well…what can you do? Atheist, ya know.

I am not ready for that typecast, I guess…

(And, to be clear, neither J.D.Longmire nor Jim Jordan was giving the impression that somehow these incidents would be expected of atheists, but not from Christians.)

Why is it that we (who should know better) have bought the bill of goods that Christians are somehow “better” than non-Christians?