...make the most of it.
That's how I introduced myself at the Ex-Pentecostal Forums, the ezboard community I found that made me realize that my doubts and my fears were real, that they were shared, and that they were legitimate. When my parents were young parents, they decided that the best thing they could do for their family was to find a church and get active in it. While I can appreciate the sentiment behind this action -- they honestly wanted the best for their future kids -- I almost wish they hadn't done it. They church they found was affilated with the UPCI, and my parents followed the Acts 2:38 instructions to the letter. Their church banned television sets, carnivals, movie theatres, non-Christian music, and pretty much everything else that's fun. They enforced rigorous dress codes -- I'm sure you're familar with them here, so I won't elaborate at this point. My mom was set on my having a perfect attendance record, and so every Sunday began with teaching and forced memorization of the Bible. Those who did memorize the verses were rewarded with candy, and those who didn't were made to feel ashamed of themselves. And I grew up in this.
The church and my parents had unknowingly provided the means for my "leaving" the faith. Because I had no television, I was a prolific reader. Reading was an escape for me, and it led to a love for knowledge and education. But I had no real problems with the faith when I was young. I went to church peacefully. I was the "good child", and my sister the hell-raising heathen who smoked and drank and partied. I was quiet, bookish, and preferred to be alone. And while I attended service three times a week, week after week, my parents' attempt to permanently indoctrinate me was being undermined all of the time. It was undermined by school and my love of learning, which instilled into me rational thinking and empiricism. It was also undermined by Star Trek. I've been a Trekkie most of my life. It began when I dislocated my elbow and fractured my arm, and spent 3 weeks in the hospital -- the only time I ever missed church. I laid in bed for almost a month, watching TV -- Star Trek, Star Trek The Next Generation, and TV Land sitcoms. I left the hospital, but began reading Star Trek books. Then a cousin of the family moved in for a few months and moved out, leaving his portable tv. It was small, black and white, and only picked up two stations, but CBS aired Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on Saturday nights. Star Trek showed me an ideal future, where people lived and worked in peace with the rest of mankind. Their life's driving purpose was to learn more, not to worship unseen dieities. They were good people, inspiring heroes to base ones morals on, and they did this without a god. And that's what made me a humanist, although I didn't know it at the time.
The Acts 2:38 doctrine, the basic tenant of the UPCI, tells people that to be saved, they are to (1) tell God they're sorry for their sins, (2) be fully immersed in a tub of water in Jesus' Name, and then (3) they will come out of the water speaking in tounges. I could quote Acts 2:38 before I could sing the alphabet song. When I was a preteen, knowing I need to be saved, I followed step one, and then step two. I asked the pastor if I could be baptized after service, when everyone left, because I was introverted and didn't want people watching me. He agreed, although some people stuck around because they noticed the baptistry being filled. I was dunked, and came of the water.....
Wet. I did what I was supposed to do, came out thanking God and telling him how good he was, but...I was only wet. My parents asked me about the experience, and I said being underwater with your eyes open was interesting, because it distorted my vision. A year later, my parents' church had a revival. I had completed steps one and two, but I needed three. I was still introverted, and didn't want to have a dozen people around me shouting and shaking me, so whenever I sought the Holy Ghost (which caused the tounges), I'd tell my dad and he and I would go into a dark room upstairs to pray. I would said "I love you Lord" over and over and over and over, alternating with other praises, but it was as sincere as i could manage. I would get very emotionally worked up, and my words would become more of a babble. My dad interupted me to tell me that I had gotten the Holy Ghost. I was very excited. Finally! I had done it! Getting the Holy Ghost was the sole purpose in life, and I had done it. Now all I had to do was continue following the rules like I had done all my life, and I would go to Heaven. I ran downstairs, told the pastor's wife, and she told me to thank God for it. I didn't see the purpose, as I had been DOING that, but went throught the motions anyway. That should've told me something
But nothing had happened. I aged into a teenager, hit adolescence, and the "good boy" started acting up a little bit. I was still a good Christian boy, but I preferred listening to the Drifters and the Beach Boys, not Steven Curtis Chapman and Carmen. And I wasn't very sociable. I needed to "pray through" and get over being shy, which I was told was a form of pride. When I was twelve and thirteen, my church was visited a number of times by a man called Grimsley. He was tall, pale, with thick black hair. He wore dark clothes constantly -- black, dark purple, dark red -- and had the demeanor of an undertaker. He had the gift of prophecy, which meant the highlight of his service was the altar call, where he went around gazing at people, taking their hands, and "speaking forth the Word" unto them. He'd tell people that they would be a great piano player, or that "a dark cloud hangs over your life". We were still kids, and this guy scared the bejeezus out of us. He was creepy. The second time he came, I was outside with one of the "worldy" kids who had never wanted to be saved, and we joked about Grimsley bringing out the tarot cards.
That evening, he did the Miss Cleo act (looking back now, I can see that his act was just that, an act). I was scared of him, this strange person, and clutched the pews, shaking. He approached me and asked if I wanted the Holy Ghost. I knew I had "backslid" and needed to be re-saved, so I noded. We prayed, and he announced that I had received it. He asked me if I felt it. I said no. He said "Don't tell me no!" and prayed on me again. This time, I said I did. And that's when I started lying.
From that moment on, my life was a lie. I said I was saved that night, and I acted saved. I stopped listening to Alan Jackson and the Beatles and listened to Chris Rice (that's where my name comes from, my favorite song of his) and youth choirs. I was still very much a "good" child -- I never swore, drank, smoke, viewed pornography, or anyhing remotely bad. I developed a reputation as someone the kids came to with problems. I imparted spritiual advice to them. I was told that I was called to the ministry, or to be a missionary. And I've spent every day since that evening in 1998 lying to myself.
But in the past three years, I graduated high school and hit college. I found there cynics and liberals, but not just any cynics and liberals. I found cynics and liberals I looked up to, whose respect and approval I wanted. For the first time, I found myself being able to look at their viewpoints without reacting defensively. They voiced questions that I had all along, questions that were silent until now, questions I had ignored. When I graduated that community college, I was still Christian, if by now a more liberal Christian. But the ball was rolling. Those questions led to more questions, and I turned to my journal -- a lifelong habit -- to write everything out. And when I wrote things out, and peiced together everything, I realized that I had been lying to myself, and to everyone around me.
But I couldn't stop. This church treated backsliders with pity and contempt. They were joked about over the pulpit, in the bathroom, and over phone lines. They came to church with their goatees and beards (if they were men) and with their short hair and earrings if they were women, and everyone patronized them in the foyer, then gossiped about them later on. My parents were "You live in our house, you go to our church" kind of people. My sister didn't stop attending church until she got married, although she had stopped believing in that particular faith back when she became a teenager. And I didn't want to stop. I believed they were right, and I was in terrible need of God.
So I began to seek him. But I found nothing. One of the central things about this church is "feeling" God. You praise him, and then you "feel" him. But I had been praising him all of my life, and never felt a thing unless I got worked up emotionally. And a year dragged one, with me seeking God and finding nothing, and wondering if I would be damned forever. The pastor told stories about ex-preachers who had gotten addicted to heroin and murdered their mothers, and were now forever cut off from the grace and mercy of God. I left each service feeling either depressed (because I was lost and God refused to speak with me) or angry (because I was lost, God refused to speak with me, and I had commited no crimes worthy of this treatment). I began to lose hope.
God hadn't just igored me after I lied to myself. He was ignoring me before, too. Why should I believe he'd ever stop ignoring me? With nothing to hinder me, I asked more questions, sought more answers, and finally managed to ask "What if there IS no God?" to myself. I admired Kent Hovind became he found the common ground that bridged my religion and science, but I began reading criticisms of his "evidence" and began to read arguments on creation and evolution. I started thinking about the possiblity that "man made God in our own image" and that religion wasn't handed down to us, we created it to answer the same questions we later created science to answer.
Today, I'm a humanist. I found the term shortly after I began questioning myself, and realized that my root ideas have a name -- they're humanistic ideas. I'm a nontheistic humanist -- I don't deny the the possibility of a God, because at this point if there is, it makes no different if I believe in him or not. Nontheism means I no longer live my life based around the idea that there is a God. My parents don't know. My sister knows I'm not with the UPCI anymore, but she doesn't know I no longer find solace in the Christian god. I find more comfort in the possibility that there is no god. If there is no god, I am no longer obligated to spend my life pandering to an insecure sadist. At the moment, I'm waiting for college. My plans to transfer this semester fell through, so I'm stuck living with my parents, hiding behind a charade.
I apologize for the length; from my reading over the course of the past couple of days, it seems that this forum is set aside for this kind of testimoney, not limited to a "Howdy, glad to be here" kind of post.