Alethias (otherwise known as Sword of Truth) has kindly agreed to kick off what we hope will be a new regular column here at Nexus: a place to share our stories of deconversion or growing up atheist. In fact, it was his story that was the impetus for our new feature!
It all started on a dark and stormy night…
Well, not necessarily, but I’ve never started a story with that line whether true or not, and it was fun.
I imagine a little back story might be nice so y’all can understand what I’m coming out of.
I grew up in a church of Christ. Notice the lowercase ‘c’ in ‘church’? That isn’t an accident. A very fundamentalist group that makes all sorts of rules that often seem to strike outsiders as just plain weird. With many of them there seems to be no such thing as a rule that is too strict to be worth making; no sunday school or musical instruments in the church service because the new testament doesn’t have them. The list of rules they can come up with just goes on and on.
I spent the first 19 years or so of my life as cofC. I had a fairly strict upbringing, but my parents loved me intensely and I had a happy childhood. I left home when I was 18. I went to a Bible training work and was going to be a cofC preacher (can’t call it pastor, after all, since pastors are ‘elders’ and preachers aren’t elders. Another weird cofC rule). And it had to be a Bible training work and not a college, because that particular cofC thinks it unscriptural to fund colleges from church funds.
I got to about a week away from graduation to be a preacher-boy, and quit. I decided that didn’t really know if I agreed with all of it, and so I felt that I couldn’t morally justify being a preacher of something I didn’t know if I even believed.
I went to church irregularly for a time, and ended up falling in with a group that was into the charismatic stuff. I ended up getting ‘baptized in the spirit’ and speaking in tongues and all that. I loved it. I had a renewed faith in Jesus, and hope in heaven, and a new mission on life.
My parents were of course less than thrilled. I wasn’t that far away from condemning myself to hell in their eyes, if i hadn’t already crossed the line, but they still loved me.
It didn’t take me long, maybe about 3 or 4 years, to become known in the charismatic churches I attended as having prophetic gifting. That is, oftentimes when praying for a particular person, I’d get a sense of what god wanted for them, and I wasn’t shy about speaking it outloud.
In charismatic circles, you are both treated with respect and feared if you can be good at that, and I was terribly good at it. Some people would constantly seek me out for ‘words from the lord’. Others would painstakingly avoid me while being polite for fear of offending me. I liked it, I confess. It gives you a power to influence people that can be both used for good or ill.
A side note: My fan and constant companion thru all this was my wife. I met her at one of the charismatic churches I attended (I regularly attended 2 or three). We fell for each other very fast and married after a year long engagement. It’s weird, but she was oftentimes the skeptic of my ‘prophetic gifting’. It’s strange now that I don’t even believe anymore and she goes to a very popular charismatic church in this town. Ironic.
What did I do with my time? I did all the normal things, but I also went to biker bars and witnessed, and passed out tracts on Friday and Saturday evenings, and passed out tracts and witnessed at rodeos(we lived in Texas), and I preached, and I gave prophecies, and lots of other stuff along that time. I even had a successful ministry for casting demons out of people.
When I hit about 30 or so, I threw Messianic Judaism into the mix. I became very interested in the Jewish roots of christianity and wanted to be part of that.
Every thing was going great. And then my world fell apart.
Lotsa stuff happened in the early and mid 90’s that had a profound impact on how I look at life.
One of my daughters had a window fall out of its frame on top of her. We were living in military housing and the frame of the house had sagged. The window was loose in its frame and just fell. It sliced her back open and the cut came within a millimeter of puncturing her lungs, which probably would have killed her. It was traumatic and really shook me, but I decided that it was God’s mercy that she lived. But it still bothered me.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She ended up having a full mastectomy and radiation and chemo, and was proclaimed cancer-free. I decided that it was God’s mercy that she lived, but I was bothered. If God can have mercy for her to live, why can’t he have mercy for her to not get cancer? No good answer for that one, and the question didn’t go away easily.
Over half a million Rwandans were massacred by other Rwandans because they belonged to the wrong tribe, or they were a little too liberal. I saw a picture of the inside of a church with bodies piled up and brown stains all over the church that were the dried blood of the victims. I was horrified. Then it got worse: I learned that the priest and nuns participated in the killing.
So where is God’s mercy in that?
I started having chronic migraines in 1997, and have had them since. sometimes I’ll go a few months without a headache, sometimes I’ll get them every other day for up to months on end. Sometimes I’m not all that good a person, sometimes I’m not all that bad a person. I started thinking “What is God trying to perfect in my by giving me these headaches?”. That progressed to “Wait a minute here. Even if the goal is to perfect me, God is sure pretty damn cold-blooded to do it this way.” That progressed over time to “Exactly why do I want to believe in a God that will do this to me for no apparent reason?” That progressed to “O wait. How is this different than there not even being a God at all?”. I was distinctly scared of going down that path. Remember that I was someone that believed that God talked to him about things. Going through this process of questioning stuff, I started questioning other stuff. Could I really be sure that when I thought I heard God’s voice that it wasn’t me just talking to myself, being crazy? Even though some of my prophecies seemed extraordinary accurate, why did I have to jump to the conclusion that they were accurate because of God? I could think of lots of rational explanations other than God.
My mom’s cancer came back. In fact, it came out that she had bone cancer, and had for years. The breast cancer was real, but it came from the bone cancer. She was in intense excruciating pain pretty constantly for the last several years of her life. My mom and dad were big fans of the book of Job in the Bible. Sorry, but I wasn’t. I, to put it bluntly, fucking hated Job. He was prissy and righteous and got everythign restored and then some. My mom was the saintliest person I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. She suffered excruciating agony for years and died. Um, hello? God? O wait. I remember. You are not really real, are you?
I went from that to, in August of 2003, asking God to reveal himself to me in a way that I couldn’t deny was him. I set a personal time limit on it, and decided that if he revealed himself to me in an undeniable way, I was going to serve him regardless.
That was the last prayer I prayed. I told my wife in January of 2004 that I couldn’t serve a God that didn’t exist. I have gone from the argument from evil to believing science is actually accurate in describing the Theory of Evolution. I have gone from being a libertarian to being a determinist. It is apparent that even though we have a deterministic universe, we have freedom of choice. If you don’t believe me, read Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennett and see if it doesn’t convince you.
My how things change.