My journey to non-belief

“You’re just mad at God,” I’ve been told.

Or they say, “You just need to keep believing. Jesus is there for you and you’ll see that soon.”

So how did a white, rural, working-class kid fall away from Christ and the Church? Did I have a bad experience and leave the church in anger? Was it because I lost a loved one and left God in grief? Did my parents fail to raise me as a good, clean-cut Christian?

Did I have a bad experience and leave the church in anger? Not really. Luckily, I wasn’t raised Catholic as a schoolboy, especially here in the Upper Midwest. Seems there is a new story about a pedophile priest every day.

Was it because I lost a loved one and left God in grief? Nope. It wasn’t God that took family members away from me, it was accidents, illness or old age.

Did my parents fail to raise me as a good, clean-cut Christian? I went to Sunday School and vacation Bible School. I read the lines in every Christmas pageant and was confirmed like any good Christian.

Then what happened? Ever since I can remember, I just realized all the fables and verses and platitudes just didn’t make sense. So let me share my journey.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been a bit of a hellion. I’ve always had one of those personalities that tries to stick it to the man.

The first time I started to wonder if the Bible was bullshit was in Sunday school. Like a lot of small, rural churches, the teachers of the Sunday School classes were usually the daughters of the pastor of other high-ranking families in the church, all of whom were woefully unprepared to be teachers as they were usually high school or young college students and being a Sunday School teacher always seemed to butt up against the fact that women weren’t allowed to have any authority in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod:

16. As the head of the wife and family the husband has the prime responsibility for the spiritual instruction of the family (Eph 6:4).

In the Church

17. The biblical principle of role relationship applies also to the gatherings of the church. All believers, men and women, will participate at gatherings of worship, prayer, Bible study, and service. The scriptural applications that a woman remain silent (1 Co 14:34) and that a woman should not teach a man (1 Ti 2:11,12) require that a woman refrain from participating in these gatherings in any way which involves authority over men.

18. In church assemblies the headship principle means that only men will cast votes when such votes exercise authority over men. Only men will do work that involves authority over men (1 Co 11:3-10; 14:33-35; 1 Ti 2:11,12).

19. All Christians, men and women, are to use their God-given gifts to serve each other (1 Pe 4:10). Women are encouraged to participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where the work involves authority over men.

We were doing our coloring assignment in the worksheet and on the front of the booklet was a copy of some oil painting showing the descendants of Adam and Eve going out from some city or village. We were learning the Genesis story and two logical problems seemed to come up.

The first was the fact that if God made us in his image, then he was a person. And a person needs a family so where were God’s parents and brothers and sisters? I didn’t know about Mormonism at this time, so I didn’t know there was another crazy religion that thought about and tried to answer this question.

The second was the question about Cain. According to the Genesis story, Adam and Eve only had two children at the time Cain murdered his brother Abel. Yet the scriptures speak about mysterious other people who existed at this time and with whom Cain built a city and a civilization in Genesis 4:

16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.

But if Adam and Eve only had two kids, where did these people come from? At the time I didn’t know of the racist explanations some apologists — also known as people with a full-time career in religious bullshit — gave: that Cain had taken his wife from the apes, their children were dark-skinned and this explanation is a racist and Eurocentric explanation for the origin of the African people.

These doubts and suspicions continued throughout my school years, but I went along. I sang the songs at Easter and at Christmas about how Jesus loves all the little children in the world. I recited the passages during the pageants and learned about the weird things in confirmation class about how Jesus had given people the keys of salvation and damnation. This was another weird thing, as one of the things Lutherans have hammered into them from birth is how only Jesus’ forgiveness, or grace, can get you into Heaven, unlike those evil Catholics who follow the antichrist and have weird ideas about good works.

At least after I was confirmed and received my special scripture, which I promptly forgot that weekend, I didn’t have to go to church anymore. I bounced around different churches friends invited me to attend until my sophomore or junior of college, where after trying all sorts of evangelical denominations and even a residence hall bible study, I gave up on this whole church thing and called myself agnostic and would tell people about how lightning and trees had more majesty than the hate of organized religion. At that time I was still spiritual, even though I didn’t really know what that meant and probably couldn’t have explained it if I tried.

Part of my distancing myself from organized religion did come from the death of a family member. Not because I was angry at a pastor or a doctrine, but because people’s doctrines were so stupid. After hearing for the tenth time that this family member was in a better place and how this was all part of God’s plan, I wanted to start strangling people.

I knew these were just platitudes they were telling themselves to make themselves feel better. The person I had lost had died in an accident, and thus it was another person who had taken them from me, not God. And thinking God has a special plan for all of the billions of people in the world seemed to me to be especially arrogant for us humans to think.

Shouldn’t we have to take ownership of our own actions? Why would God plan for children to get bone cancer? Or for people to maim, kill and rape each other in the horrors of war? If free will means anything, then it means God has jack shit for a plan and we have to take responsibility for what we do.

After moving back home from college, religion tried one last time to grab hold of me. My hometown church invited me to attend services and I accepted the invite, showed up and even stayed for the annual meeting where the women cooked all the menfolk a big, hearty meal and then left less they intervene in the men’s work of making all the decisions on how to pay the pastor and run the church.

I was not inspired by the sermon, or the people or the arguments for God. Slowly, as I had begun to learn more about how much scientists were discovering and learning about the cosmos, I gave up my feeble attempts to argue that lightning, or trees or coral reefs were proof of some kind of deistic god and became an atheist.

Over the years those convictions have become stronger. And now that Evangelicals are kicking and screaming about being persecuted and having the freedom to impose their beliefs on others, I figure it’s time to become more of an active participant than just a passive observer.

Religion is a huge force for harm, such as the child abuse perpetrated by the Catholic Church, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others that continue to this day. Christians continue attempts to persecute those they dislike such as the LGBTQ community and have politicians such as Donald Trump, many of whom are willing to give them special privileges and consideration, hold back science education and spend public funds on boondoggles such as Ken Ham’s Ark Park.

Some people may think the Upper Midwest is like the Northeast and thus a secular utopia, where we don’t have to deal with the crazy of people like Ken Ham or Ray Comfort. We tend to vote more secular, like our Bernie Sanders and don’t try to force schools to teach creationism.

But our communities still have churches on what feels like every third street corner. We have Amish enclaves that refuse to provide modern medical interventions to their children and entire families shun a member who has lost their way. We turn a blind eye in the name of religious tolerance as Good News Clubs scare very young children into believing they have to take Jesus into their hearts or they will burn in the fires of Hell and parents enroll their children in private religious schools that take public money to teach kids that sexuality is a moral evil, the earth is 6,000 years old and climate change is impossible because God gave man dominion over the earth and promised never to wipe out mankind again after Noah’s flood.

These things need to be spoken out against. To borrow from two intelligent and well-spoken atheists, people need to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible and while you have a right to wrong, I have a right to be right and point out your bullshit.

Please feel free to comment here or elsewhere on the site with your thoughts and feelings. If there are any topics in the atheist/secular movement you want me to address or important issues in the Upper Midwest, let me know and I’ll try to tackle them. You can reach me at thomas_paine_09@hotmail.com.

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