Part Four: Doubt
HA note: The following story is written by lungfish, a formerly homeschooled ex-Baptist, ex-Calvinist, ex-Pentecostal, ex-Evangelical, ex-young earth creationist, current atheist, and admin of the Ask an Ex-Christian web page.
Doubt: True Christians
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father . . . Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29, 31
As a Christian, I was taught that God desired a personal relationship with each of His individual children – including me.
God spoke to me in that still, small voice in the back of my mind – giving me prophetic words and protecting me from danger. He even knew the exact number of hairs on my head. Nothing was more valuable to my God than this relationship. It was this arrogant idea that led to me to the path of doubt – but the log in my eye was too big and it was not my own arrogance that I first noticed.
But it sometimes takes noticing the faults in other people to notice the same faults in yourself.
It was during a prayer concert, that I noticed something strange that I had not noticed before. I found myself being moved by the praise music. It was a loud musical production accompanied by loud passionate prayers shouted from behind microphones on a stage. An hour in, the praise leader announced that he could feel the spirit of God moving through the room. People raised their hands and scattered shouts of amen swept across the congregation. My euphoria immediately dissipated, my heart sank, and, for the first time, I experienced a moment of clarity.
I suddenly began to wonder if this was truly the spirit of God or merely an emotional reaction to the music.
That is when a church elder stepped up to the pulpit. He and his wife were both medical doctors. He began talking about the importance of being thankful. I remember what he said as vividly as if it had happened today. He told a story of how he was merging onto the highway on his way to work when he realized that this was the tenth time in a row he had done so and no other cars were in his way. He then expressed his thankfulness to God for the small things in life and urged the congregation that we all should do the same. People shook their heads in agreement all over the sanctuary and loud cheers could be heard from across the room. My jaw dropped.
Why would God care about anyone merging onto the highway in their expensive car while driving to their high paying job when there are children all over the world starving to death?
It was this experience that eventually allowed me to open my eyes and see past the cover that Christianity held over my mind. I could not believe that this was the attitude of a true Christian. A few months later, that man’s son attempted suicide. I was never told why. I became confused. The Holy Spirit could not be in people like this. I began to believe I was surrounded by Christians who were not true. I remembered the vision of the beast that the pastor’s daughter shared at my previous church and decided that I needed to get out of this town.
I needed to find a community of Christians that truly held the Holy Spirit.
“The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” Psalms 24:1
A few years later, I got married.
Our wedding was not our own. The ceremony was focused completely on God. We used it as an opportunity for the church youth pastor to present the salvation message to everyone attending. We included prayer and praise songs anywhere we could. After the wedding, my mother promised to us a rental house – but first, she wanted to finish fixing it up. She said it would take only a month. We moved into my parents’ house while we waited.
This was the beginning of the end of my faith.
While we lived there, every word my wife said was harshly judged by my mother. Every morning I was confronted about something my wife said that was taken out of context. My wife was constantly ridiculed and her faith questioned. Adaptation to a harmful environment is not difficult. Adaptation sometimes can be so extreme, that a person does not even realize a problem even exists – until the person perceives that environment affecting somebody else. My mother’s religion was no longer just negatively affecting me, but now my wife as well.
I was extremely disappointed in my mother. This was not how someone who held the Holy Spirit was supposed to behave. My wife was raised in a nonreligious family and my mother was the only example of a Godly woman that she had – an example she no longer could look up to. This event did not cause me to doubt Christianity. I still strongly believe in the existence of a God. However, I stopped praying, I stopped reading my Bible, and I began to push my Christian walk to the back of my mind.
“Commit thy works unto Jehovah, and thy purposes shall be established.“ Proverbs 16:3
I took a management position at work and my wife and I had a child. I lost interest in my previous plans to attend seminary. After three years of contemplation, I began to gain an interest in biology and finally moved away from my hometown to pursue a degree in the subject. Here, in this new town, I prayed the last prayer I would ever utter to God. What I prayed was to be shown a community of true Christians so that I might know how to serve God as a true Christian would serve God.
Soon after, I received an interview at a local greenhouse run by a nonprofit organization. The organization’s goal was to provide respite and employment opportunities for people with mental disabilities. The organization wanted to begin raising fish in the greenhouse to be incorporated in a method of permaculture where the waste water from fish is utilized to fertilize a plant crop and re-circulated. It was the study of the biology of this method that brought me to the university in this town and I had applied to this organization completely unaware of their plans.
The greenhouse manager decided to hire me before she even met me due to my knowledge in the operation of this method and my previous volunteer work at churches. We hit it off immediately. We were both Christians and even attended the same church in town. It was as if God Himself had orchestrated events and interests in my life to bring me to this place. Finally, I could do God’s work and support my family while doing so. I was certain that my prayers were answered and my faith was rekindled. But what happened next was a barrage of events and realities that so vividly contradicted my beliefs.
I was left with no choice but to question my faith.
I have always wanted to use my life to help other people and, here at this organization, I believed I could do this. So I gave all my knowledge to the greenhouse. Everything I knew. I began to get to know my manager very well. We spent many hours in the greenhouse talking about our faith. After months on the job, I was told that the greenhouse had been seeing financial losses since it had started more than a year ago. I came to realize that this was because our methods were highly inefficient and I began to believe that we should be relying on university research in horticulture to maximize the greenhouse’s efficiency, thereby, maximize profits that would then be donated to the organization’s cause.
I consulted my manager on this idea and she agreed – but when I provided her with hundreds of pages of research data suggesting the use of methods that harshly contrasted our own, she refused to read any of them. I asked her why and she told me that pharmaceutical companies pay off scientists to falsify data for financial gain and this is true of every branch of science. I failed to see how this applied to our situation.
When I heard her say this, I realized that I had said these same exact words to others in the past and I could not determine how I came to believe this.
A few weeks later, she admitted to me that she did not know how to manage a garden or a business, but kept the job because she wanted the paycheck. Her husband had a very high paying job and they owned a small business together. She was draining the finances of this nonprofit organization for a paycheck she did not need. I also soon found that she had lied to me during my interview about the organization’s plan to raise fish in the greenhouse. This was, in fact, solely her plan, and the organization had already declined the proposal. She was using me to convince the board of directors to change their minds – and, although they did change their minds after receiving a sizable grant, I found this to be a disgusting act.
She also began telling me about her son. He had a chemical imbalance in his brain that often caused him to act out. She was taking him to a neurologist who prescribed him a medication that greatly calmed his behavior. She told me of success stories that the neurologist shared of former patients. He talked of a former football player who began suffering from a sex addiction after a severe head injury. The areas of this man’s brain that controlled the sex drive were found to have become over-active. With medication, the over-activity was able to be cured and the man was eventually able to end his medication and live normally once again.
I found this confusing.
There was no mention of such a possibility in the Bible.
How did this fit into the doctrine the Bible? I wondered about all the people that lived before the age of science. People that were excommunicated, or even killed, in the name of religion because they suffered from similar curable brain afflictions. Would not an all-knowing God include this knowledge in his book so that his children would not persecute each other over these curable imbalances?
Her son came to help out at the greenhouse one day. She continually spoke down on him. She assumed the worst in everything he did. She complained and apologized for his behavior all day when he did nothing wrong in my eyes. She was very inconsiderate of him. He had come to volunteer for an hour in exchange for time at the skate park. But he ended up being forced to stay for three hours and had to give up his park time.
I saw myself in this kid. I saw the way I was treated as a child.
I began to see many aspects in my manager that reminded me of my own mother. It was as if they were the same person. I began to see her arrogance, self righteousness, and the same mistrust of all things scientific. Every attitude, every world view seemed to be identical. And I realized that this is the attitude of most of the Christians that I knew.
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Romans 13:1
There was also a pastor that volunteered at the greenhouse. He often talked about God and about politics.
As most Christians, he held very conservative views. There was a recall election over a conservative governor happening at the time. The governor was attempting to bust the teacher’s union and take away their benefits. I believed this to be a huge mistake because it might cause an exodus of qualified teachers from our state and students, such as myself, would be negatively affected.
I was the only Christian I knew that believed this.
I shared this with the volunteer pastor and he disagreed. He returned the next day and shared with me a revelation he had the night before. He said that he realized Romans 13:1 meant that participating in an attempted recall of a government official was a sin against God. I thought this extremely narrow sighted and an obvious interpretation of scripture to suit his political ideal.
We also talked of social programs in the state. He believed taking advantage of these programs was also a sin and quoted II Thessalonians 3:10 as proof. I was on many social programs at the time. I wanted to gain a college education and better myself so that I could more effectively better the world. My parents did not contribute to paying my college tuition, so I worked many hours after classes in order to pay for school.
Even so, if it were not for food stamps, day care assistance, and our states social medical program, I would not be able to feed my child while in school.
In fact, I would likely not be in school at all and I would already be in debt from paying the hospital bill on my child’s birth – as I could not afford my employer’s unusually high medical insurance premium. Instead, I would be working my retail management job and living paycheck to paycheck for the rest of my life. How could I serve others when I lived a life that barely kept my own family fed? And why do they not consider these programs fulfillment of Jesus’ command to feed the poor? I knew that the Christian conservative majority was wrong on these issues and, if they were wrong about these issues, what else were they wrong about?
To be continued.