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Goodbye Jesus

Finally, My Extimony


Zaphod

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I've been posting sporadically here on Ex-C for months, so I thought I'd finally make a formal introduction. Like so many before me, I have written a very long story of my loss of faith. I grew up in the Church of Christ denomination (aka the “churches of Christ.”) What mainly sets this denomination apart from others is a lack of instrumental music in the worship services and the belief that willful baptism by immersion is an essential step in salvation. That last bit was particularly awkward as a kid since it implied that even the overwhelming majority of even my church-going friends were not saved. When my mother referred to someone as a “Christian” or as a “member of the church,” I knew she meant someone who attended a Church of Christ. The other denominations didn't count as "Christians." I think they're loosening up a bit on that last point, but it was how we were raised.

I didn’t question Christianity a whole lot as a kid. I was baptized at age 11 because I didn't want to go to hell. Any doubts I may have had were usually confined to questioning the peculiarities of our particular branch of Christianity. I do remember one Wednesday night service when I’d been asked to give that night's lesson, as the baptized youth were occasionally invited to do, I stood in front of those people and told them of a recent struggle I’d had with my faith, but I’d decided that God must exist because Jesus had said, “In my father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you,” and I trusted Jesus. (It made sense at the time.) I also specifically remember telling these people that I’d also decided to accept the Gospel for my own sanity -- I just couldn’t handle the idea of a world without God. One little old lady came up and told me how much she’d enjoyed my lesson, but I remember feeling surprised because I really didn't think I’d done a very good job of justifying my faith. That was about the extent of my questioning of my faith in general. I always hated talking about baptism and musical instruments with my friends. These issues made my church "weird" compared to the others. (For those interested, baptism was required because of the way we read Acts 2:38, and musical instruments were not used because there was no biblical record of their use in worship in the first-century church.)

I took my faith seriously in my youth. I moved away for college and joined up with the student group at the biggest Church of Christ in town. My entire social life revolved around church. Didn’t hang out with classmates, and even had little interaction with guys in my dorm. The summers of my freshman and sophomore years I went on mission trips to Ukraine to bring Jesus to the former communists, and to finally put my foreign language skills to use. I ended up flunking out of college my junior year just because I’ve taken longer than most people to grow up, but I got a local job and stayed in that college town.

Shortly after flunking out, I talked a young teen into being baptized. I took that event as a sign from God and decided I would become a missionary. Our church there ran a missionary training program that consisted of one semester of full-time bible study followed by an 18-month apprenticeship overseas. It was during this bible study that I really came to realize that the bible was not literally true. I remember the specific incident. We were doing a comparative study of the gospels, and I saw something that I had never noticed before. It was one of those things that make you ask, “How is it possible that I’ve never noticed this?” It was the story of Jesus going ape-shit in the temple and wrecking the money-changers’ tables. There’s a HUGE discrepancy between the way John tells the story and… whichever other gospel tells it, but it’s not one you’d really notice when the story's read to you out of context. John’s gospel puts this incident at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but the other gospel portrays this as an incident at the end of his ministry, the week of his crucifixion. This was huge for me. At this point in my life I was OK with the fact that Genesis might just be a non-literal, poetic allegory about creation, but this Jesus rampage story was something else entirely to me. John's gospel was a book of history. This wasn’t about two witnesses with different viewing angles getting different parts of the same event. This was a change in the timeline, a rewrite. This had happened in the editing room. I was beginning to realize that the gospels probably tell us as much fact about Jesus as the movie “Tombstone” does about Wyatt Earp.

So I finished my bible study and told everyone I was going to go overseas. Long story short, I kept dragging my feet until the day a roommate of mine told about his summer mission trip to Kenya, and how one man had lost his children because his family objected to his conversion from Islam to Christianity. I decided I wasn’t certain enough in my faith to rip a family apart, and I dropped the idea of becoming a missionary.

I was probably about 22 when I decided missionary life was not for me. At 24, after six years in this town attending the same church, I came out of the closet as a homosexual. That journey is a whole book unto itself. Friendships did wither about that time, but maybe my sexuality wasn't as big a deal as it seemed since I was in my sixth year living in a college town and my friends had mostly graduated and moved away by then. After coming out, I stopped going to church altogether for a few months. I remember that I read The Case for Christ in those days and was disappointed by it. It was at a time when I was trying desperately to cling to my faith, but Strobel sounded to me like a lawyer questioning his own client on the stand. I was not impressed at the questions he was lobbing at his interviewees. I still wasn't quite ready to give up on God, though. After a few churchless months I landed at the town's gay-friendly church, a United Church of Christ (similar name, but completely different denomination).

It was during this time of attending church that two things happened that were the final nails in the coffin of my Christianity. First, internet prayer requests started to become a big thing, at least in my inbox. You've likely seen 'em. "Little Betty Sue in Tuscaloosa is seven and has brain cancer. Imagine what would happen if 3.7 zillion Christians prayed for her healing!" I realized that I wasn't comfortable with the fact that Betty Sue, an American who is a day's drive from St. Jude's, would be getting even more preferential treatment because she was born into a society that worshipped the "right" god and had electronic access to other worshippers of the right god, none of which was available to a seven-year-old girl with brain cancer in an Amazonian jungle.

Second, I found the book Why Christianity Must Change Or Die by John Spong. (Well, I say now that this was the final nail in the coffin, but it's been weeks since I wrote the previous paragraph and now I'm not entirely certain that this is what I was originally talking about. It'll do, though.) Spong is a retired Episcopal bishop who in this book makes the case for a non-theistic version of Christianity. I don't think he ever used the term "atheistic" to describe his outlook. He says that Christians have to acknowledge the reality that we live in a world where Darwin and Einstein have been shown to be right, that there is no afterlife, that God may not actually be an intelligent agent, and, most heretical of all, that Jesus was not born of a virgin and today is still dead. Finally I had found a form of Christianity that was consistent with the world around me. It allowed me to attend church with a clean conscience for another few months, but eventually my work schedule changed in a way that interfered and I quit going again. I've been calling myself a deist or an agnostic for eight or ten years now. Though it can be depressing and disorienting at first, the most beautiful thing I have ever discovered is that life is empty and meaningless. It's beautiful and liberating because it means that I can go out there and find out what life means to me, and not worry about fitting my life into a plan laid out by a bronze-age author who didn't even know the earth orbits the sun.

Today I find myself in the awkward position of living with my parents as I return to school to finish the degree I didn't finish nearly twenty years ago. I've been here for just over two years. I have told my folks I am a deist and I went to church with them with some regularity for close to a year after I moved in. A couple of different sermons over the past six months have pissed me off so much that I have quit going. However things are especially awkward because my dad is an elder in the church, a formal position of leadership. I'm not sure how much their church friends have figured out about me, but some in the church might argue based on scripture that my dad should be disqualified from that post for having a son who is an apostate and an unrepetant homosexual. I'd feel bad for potentially taking away this post because it's the highest honor our sect can bestow on a layman. I'm trying to walk a balance and live my life without screwing up everyone else's as a result. Right now, though, I don't go to church with them and they don't hassle me about it, even though I know it disappoints them. We all still love each other, but I'm really looking forward to transferring to an out-of-town four-year university.

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Thanks for sharing your story. I was raised in the UCC so I can relate to how they are a liberal church. It's funny to think that there are so many problems with the bible that everyone seemingly has their own set of passages that seal the deal in their conversion. This is the first I had hear about the money changers timeline. While I had already deconverted, the most damning part of the gospels for me was Jesus literal belief in demons and evil spirits.

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That's the first I've heard of the moneychangers story being inconsistent too. Honestly, I haven't read the Bible very often since I stopped going to church. I guess for me it was kind of the opposite of your experience... instead of scrutinizing the Bible, I stopped studying it for so long that when I started hearing it again, it sounded silly.

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I'm glad you felt comfortable enough with us to share such a deeply moving ex-timony. I think many of us have that moment when we go "wait just what the heck was that?!?" moments about our faith; for you, it was realizing that the New Testament is far from historially dependable; for me, it was realizing that its claims about prayer's efficacy were completely untrue.

 

I'm glad your parents are being so cool about your clear rejection of their faith, and I hope one day they realize what sacrifices you've made in turn to help your dad keep his post. You're a good and loving son. They have every reason to be proud of you.

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Hello Zaphod, I really appreciate your story, and I relate to many parts of it, esp. the "am I called to the ministry" thing and the difficulty of justifying God for condemnation of oneself as gay. I'm rooting for you to finish your degree and get your own place!

 

I'm guessing that the usual inerrantist strategy of multiplication could be used to explain away the discrepancy you noticed about Jesus and the moneychangers in the temple. Wouldn't fundies say, "well, Jesus cleansed the temple twice"? they could even say it creates a nice ring composition to have him do that at the beginning and at the end of his ministry. That defense wouldn't convince an objective reader but it might be enough for someone already committed to the inerrantist position.

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Welcome to another fellow Texan! :)

 

Glad you found the forum. Thanks for sharing your story with us. Good luck to you with your schooling and your new life!

 

 

In case you didn't know, there are quite a few non-theist groups in TX:

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Another Texan here, I think I've been saying that a bunch lately, I guess more texans needs places like this.

 

I'm guessing that the usual inerrantist strategy of multiplication could be used to explain away the discrepancy you noticed about Jesus and the moneychangers in the temple. Wouldn't fundies say, "well, Jesus cleansed the temple twice"? they could even say it creates a nice ring composition to have him do that at the beginning and at the end of his ministry. That defense wouldn't convince an objective reader but it might be enough for someone already committed to the inerrantist position.

 

I was going to bring this up, to a fundi this seems to be a non issue and they always say the same thing, its pretty obvious that jebus cleaned the temple twice (how is that obvious I don't know).

 

Same thing when I brought up the two different stories for the death of Judas, in one he hung himself, in the other he fell in a field and his guts busted open, to a fundi this was also a non issue, Judas hung himself, started rotting, the rope broke, so he landed on his head and his guts busted out, (obvious right?).

 

One good thing about not having to take the bible as being inerrant, I can be honest and not have to try to fit opposing stories together.

 

 

I also good luck on finishing that degree, for some people (myself included) getting away for a while and growing up a little helps for the second time around.

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What I find interesting is your reading of Spong. I really cannot wrap my mind around what he is saying. If I could, I might have remained a liberal Episcopalian (I moved from Methodism to Episcopalianism as my views became more liberal). But I cannot, so I am no longer a Christian of any ilk. Thanks for the story.

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Spong's book was bascially arguing that Christians needed to make their faith fit the evidence of the world around them, and not the other way around. Today when I look at it I see a lifelong cleric trying hard not to have to call himself an atheist. Though I eventually drew different conclusions than Spong did and moved into full apostasy, the book is right now an arm's length away from me on my shelf a decade after I bought it.

 

Everyone's surprise at the moneychanger story made me review it, and I confirmed that the story is in the second chapter of John, but around the last quarter of all the other three gospels. When as a believer I first noticed the contradictory chronology of John's account of the cleansing of the temple, I did consider the possibility that John was talking about a different event than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I ended up facing the fact that if these were any other man's biographies, the natural assumption would be that one author had played with the order. It just seemed more likely than the possibility that all four authors left out the fact that he did threw this tantrum more than once.

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Hi. Thanks for sharing your testimony, Zaphod.

 

I'm glad your parents are being so cool about your clear rejection of their faith, and I hope one day they realize what sacrifices you've made in turn to help your dad keep his post. You're a good and loving son. They have every reason to be proud of you.

 

Second that!

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Adam,

 

I first became a civil rights activist almost a quarter of a century ago, and it sounds to me as though you've tried your best to deal with all of this in the most logical, ethical, and empathetic way possible--unlike them. If they do end up disqualifying your father from his post simply because you're gay, I know that it will be difficult for both he and you, but the road to having civil rights can be tortuous, as you well know. Try to see it as nothing more than a step forward in the road, because one day, a time will come that that kind of discriminatory behavior will be illegal.

 

I had one gay friend years ago, that had been brought up in a very strict Baptist family, and when he came out, all hell broke loose. He too, lost his faith, which was bad enough, but the retaliations that he faced, from both his family and friends almost broke him.

 

One of the last times I ever saw him, when he was dying of AIDS, he told me, "You know what? They can talk all they want to me now about how I've not only killed myself with my "sinful perversions," but also damned myself to hell, and I just don't care. That's because I finally figured out that hell and demons really do exist-- because that's what they are, and this is hell."

 

Hang in there, and stand tall. :)

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I had one gay friend years ago, that had been brought up in a very strict Baptist family, and when he came out, all hell broke loose. He too, lost his faith, which was bad enough, but the retaliations that he faced, from both his family and friends almost broke him.

 

One of the last times I ever saw him, when he was dying of AIDS, he told me, "You know what? They can talk all they want to me now about how I've not only killed myself with my "sinful perversions," but also damned myself to hell, and I just don't care. That's because I finally figured out that hell and demons really do exist-- because that's what they are, and this is hell."

 

 

That's some real shit, right there. Powerful.

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I had one gay friend years ago, that had been brought up in a very strict Baptist family, and when he came out, all hell broke loose. He too, lost his faith, which was bad enough, but the retaliations that he faced, from both his family and friends almost broke him.

 

One of the last times I ever saw him, when he was dying of AIDS, he told me, "You know what? They can talk all they want to me now about how I've not only killed myself with my "sinful perversions," but also damned myself to hell, and I just don't care. That's because I finally figured out that hell and demons really do exist-- because that's what they are, and this is hell."

 

 

That's some real shit, right there. Powerful.

 

 

Jerry also gave me one of my other favorite quotes: he was describing one of his former preachers, and he said, "I liked to call him Pastor Lassie, because he was the kind of guy that preaches in church all day, and then goes home at night to fuck his dog."

lol

 

This was in L.A., and Jerry was originally from Alabama, but he was kind of like a Surfer Dude version of Oscar Wilde--only much less stylish, with long blonde hair, and covered in Coppertone and sand. :)

 

I miss him. He could really make me laugh. :D

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Adam,

 

I first became a civil rights activist almost a quarter of a century ago, and it sounds to me as though you've tried your best to deal with all of this in the most logical, ethical, and empathetic way possible--unlike them. If they do end up disqualifying your father from his post simply because you're gay, I know that it will be difficult for both he and you, but the road to having civil rights can be tortuous, as you well know. Try to see it as nothing more than a step forward in the road, because one day, a time will come that that kind of discriminatory behavior will be illegal.

 

I had one gay friend years ago, that had been brought up in a very strict Baptist family, and when he came out, all hell broke loose. He too, lost his faith, which was bad enough, but the retaliations that he faced, from both his family and friends almost broke him.

 

One of the last times I ever saw him, when he was dying of AIDS, he told me, "You know what? They can talk all they want to me now about how I've not only killed myself with my "sinful perversions," but also damned myself to hell, and I just don't care. That's because I finally figured out that hell and demons really do exist-- because that's what they are, and this is hell."

 

Hang in there, and stand tall. smile.png

 

I appreciate the sentiment. My dad's position as an elder isn't a paying gig, so it would be more socially awkward than anything. In the Church of Christ, the elders basically function as a board of directors. They're the bosses and the preacher serves at their pleasure. The elders are technically expected to be able to function as spiritual leaders, but the preacher usually does most of that. Titus 1:5 says an elder's children need to be believers, but maybe since my sister works in adult ministry at the Methodist church down the road, she can make up for my heathenism. Even though she's a Methodist.

 

I really think the congregation would be much less concerned about my homosexuality than they would be about my total abandonment of the faith. I don't bring dates to church, so it's the sort of thing they could just ignore as long as I was still a believer. Again, I'm not sure who knows what at this point. Some of them are Facebook friends, but they're under restriction and can't see everything on there, although I'm sure I've let some comments slip through the filters. I do plan on lifting those restrictions later this month, during the week of my town's gay pride parade, and letting the chips fall as they may. And that's just for the being gay. The announcement of my deconversion will have to wait until I've moved away.

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Adam,

 

I first became a civil rights activist almost a quarter of a century ago, and it sounds to me as though you've tried your best to deal with all of this in the most logical, ethical, and empathetic way possible--unlike them. If they do end up disqualifying your father from his post simply because you're gay, I know that it will be difficult for both he and you, but the road to having civil rights can be tortuous, as you well know. Try to see it as nothing more than a step forward in the road, because one day, a time will come that that kind of discriminatory behavior will be illegal.

 

I had one gay friend years ago, that had been brought up in a very strict Baptist family, and when he came out, all hell broke loose. He too, lost his faith, which was bad enough, but the retaliations that he faced, from both his family and friends almost broke him.

 

One of the last times I ever saw him, when he was dying of AIDS, he told me, "You know what? They can talk all they want to me now about how I've not only killed myself with my "sinful perversions," but also damned myself to hell, and I just don't care. That's because I finally figured out that hell and demons really do exist-- because that's what they are, and this is hell."

 

Hang in there, and stand tall.

 

I appreciate the sentiment. My dad's position as an elder isn't a paying gig, so it would be more socially awkward than anything. In the Church of Christ, the elders basically function as a board of directors. They're the bosses and the preacher serves at their pleasure. The elders are technically expected to be able to function as spiritual leaders, but the preacher usually does most of that. Titus 1:5 says an elder's children need to be believers, but maybe since my sister works in adult ministry at the Methodist church down the road, she can make up for my heathenism. Even though she's a Methodist.

 

I really think the congregation would be much less concerned about my homosexuality than they would be about my total abandonment of the faith. I don't bring dates to church, so it's the sort of thing they could just ignore as long as I was still a believer. Again, I'm not sure who knows what at this point. Some of them are Facebook friends, but they're under restriction and can't see everything on there, although I'm sure I've let some comments slip through the filters. I do plan on lifting those restrictions later this month, during the week of my town's gay pride parade, and letting the chips fall as they may. And that's just for the being gay. The announcement of my deconversion will have to wait until I've moved away.

 

 

 

It just sounds like an awful lot to have to cope with--and all of the stupidity is so needless. One of the reasons that I was such as total failure as a christian is because I have always been devout about (and I do mean devout, since I have always been devoted to it) is not only freedom of religion, but the right to not believe in any religion at all.

 

I mean, thirty-six years ago, when I joined Calvary Chapel, my first denomination, I had this horrible habit of saying to people that I was supposed to be prosletyzing to, "Oh, but hey, this is just what I happen to believe in, but you? You have the right not to believe in anything at all, if you don't want to--because, this is America, after all."

 

A couple of times, when we were out "spreading the word," I distinctly heard my group leader gasping every time I did that so loudly that I wondered if he had strained something! LOL

 

He would always come to me afterwards, to explain the "correct" way to do it, but I would just shake my head, and say, "No, I'm sorry but I can't do that because it's just simply illogical. After all, if god gave us free will to accept him, doesn't that mean that he meant to give people the option of rejecting him too? So, I'm sorry, but I have to do what he wants, not you." So that's what I've always thought.

 

Talk about a great apologist! :)

 

Oh, and I had to give up on completing my degrees in Criminal Justice and Computer Science when my health finally failed, and it's one of the few things that actually do bother me, since I always wanted an education. So, no matter what happens, or how bad things get with this mess that your dealing with, do not give up on finishing your degree, or I shall come and haunt you when I'm dead! LOL

 

 

 

Talk about synchronicity (or the obsessive compulsive behavior of religious zealots) I totally lost my temper today--albeit in a very low-key Zen kind of way) with someone that went all Henry Homophobic on me by the laundry room, about a friend. I wrote a topic on it in order to blow off steam--talk about ranting!

 

If you want to see it, I called it "I Ran Over My Neighbor With My Wheelchair Today--Or At Least I Really Wanted To."

 

I'm thinking about wearing a firearm when I do laundry, from now on. Just the other day, I had a neighbor's home health aide corner me inside of the same laundry room, because she wanted to know "whether or not jesus was my friend." No matter what I did, the woman would not shut up--until I showed a little of my Los Angeles.

 

Since I'm a former legal advocate, if she tries it again, I'm going to give her a nice lecture on how the federal government would feel about things like the seperation of church and state, and her getting paid with Medicaid funds while she's preaching--and ignoring her client.

 

Either that, or I'll save myself the hassle and just run her over with my power wheelchair. :)

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