Openly Atheist

This has been an eventful week.  This past Sunday I called my dad and finally told him outright that I don’t believe in the religion he raised me in.  I told him I don’t believe in God or any of it any more.  He basically told me that he was sorry to hear it, but that he still loves me.  Gotta love him!
A few days ago Ryan Bell over at Life After God asked people to post messages on their social media using #IWantBelieversToKnow.  So I did. I posted #‎IWantBelieversToKnow‬ that the more I studied and prayed about god, and the more I asked him to reveal himself to me, the more questions I had that religious folks couldn’t answer. I seriously tried… For years.”  Now I’m knee deep in a FB conversation between a whole lot of people on both sides of the fence.  It’s very interesting, and no one is being rude.

So yeah.  I’m completely out now.  I am an open atheist.  Hopefully my openness will make it easier for someone else to be open about their lack of belief.

I Outed Myself at Work Today

Today was our first day back after Christmas break.  We had faculty meetings scheduled for the entire day.  Sadly, over the break, one of our students was tragically killed in a home invasion.

To start the faculty meeting, our principal spoke to the tragedy and said that she knows prayer makes a difference.  She asked everyone to join hands and asked one of the teachers to pray.

I stayed in my seat.  I also noticed that a couple of our staff members who are Jehovah’s Witnesses stayed seated as well.  A couple of teachers around me offered me a hand to hold, but I politely declined.  They all moved over away from me toward the circle of hand holding.  One of the teachers turned around and motioned with her head for me to join the circle, and I smiled and shook my head.

After more than 15 minutes of preaching, several prayers, and some possible tongue talking, they all made their ways back to their seats.

At the first break the teacher who motioned me to join the group came over and asked why I didn’t join the prayer: “Don’t you believe in god?”  I smiled and answered that I didn’t.  A couple of other teachers nearby overheard and said they thought I went to (my former) church.  I said that I used to, but not anymore.  They seemed like they thought I was joking with them.  But I reassured them that no, I do not believe in god.  There was a little more discussion about why, but I only had a few minutes before the meeting started back up, so I couldn’t really get into it.  I did say that after studying the scripture more closely I realized what a horrible god the god of the Bible is.  I told them that for him to be worthy of my worship he would have to be as good as I am.  And since I’ve never killed, ordered genocide, or ordered the rape of little girls that I must be better than god.  “It’s in the Bible”, I told them.  Hopefully it will pique their interest and they’ll get in a little study time.

Word was spread to one or two others who informed me that they would be praying for me.  Thanks?  Is that supposed to make me feel better?

Either way, there were a few funny looks and a bit of denial, but nothing bad happened as a result.  Hopefully it will all stay well in the future.

Update

Hey folks,  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been dealing with some personal issues.  A lot has been happening, but I’ve been having trouble with motivation.  That probably has to do with the fact that I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder.  I think it’s got a lot to do with my religious upbringing, among other things.  I have been on medication for the last month and it seems to be helping.  I finally get to meet with my therapist for the first time tomorrow.  Hopefully she will help me start working on some of my issues.  This is a big step for me.

Among other things going on…

I got to go to the launch party for Ryan Bell’s new initiative, Life After God.  I took my wife (who is still a christian) and she did the most amazing thing.  When Ryan asked for people to give their opinions on what the movement should focus on, she got up in front of a bunch of atheists and said that she thinks there needs to be more support for people coming out of religion who are still married to religious spouses.  That blew me away!  I was really having doubts about our relationship until that moment.  Sure, there are still things we need to work through, but that’s coming along.

Neil Carter of Godless in Dixie was there and he took a few moments to speak with me and my wife.  He is such an amazing person for caring enough to take the time to give us some advice and try to help us out.  I cannot say enough how thankful I am.  He recommended we read the book In Faith and In Doubt together.  We have started reading it and making notes.  Amazing stuff!  I really think this is going to start some conversations that will improve our relationship and help us for the long run.

There were several other people I met who made a tremendous impact on me.  Cass Midgley of the podcast Everyone’s Agnostic spent some time talking with us.  What a great guy.  He offered to have us on the podcast, but I haven’t contacted him as of yet.  I may do that as soon as I am finished writing this post.

We also met one of the guests that Cass had on his show, Hugh Mann.  He has a great story to tell that shows just how difficult it is to be a nonbeliever in the general area I live in.  What a great guy!

Another great thing that happened just this Saturday was a conversation with my little sister.  She is the one who is no longer a oneness pentecostal, but she is still very christian and very conservative.  Recently she asked me how church was and I told her that I hadn’t been going.  Well, this last Saturday while talking to her she asked whether I was an atheist or an agnostic or what.  I came out and told her point blank that I was both.  To my surprise she said she loves me anyway and she doesn’t want this to mess up our relationship.  She also made a comment that makes me think that my dad will be OK with my non-belief as well, but that is another conversation I will have to have later.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that I received David Silverman’s new book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World.  I read it in about two days (in my free time) and I can now say, “I get it!”  I understand why he seems so confrontational.  It’s all about equality.  If you are a closeted atheist, or any stripe of nonbeliever, you should seriously consider reading this book.  He talks about the reasons American Atheists do what they do and how it helps all of us who are nonreligious.  As a result of reading this book, I joined American Atheists, and I have some advocacy plans (tentative) for the Freethinkers Meet-Up group I fellowship with.  I haven’t discussed it with them yet, but I think they will be on board.

That’s what’s been going on with me.  Sorry for taking so long to post.  I think I’m back on the uphill.

Boy Scout Dilemma

So I’m in a quandary…

My youngest son decided a few months ago that he wanted to join the Boy Scouts.  (When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Boy Scout as well.  I actually went to a meeting when I was in sixth grade, but there were only two of us there so the troop never formed.)  We have been trying to get him involved in some kind of activity for a while, so we were kind of excited when he said he wanted to do this.  I took him to the first meeting and it seemed like a good thing.

We went to the second meeting and all was well.  He decided to stick with it, and now he goes every week.  He’s even been on a weekend campout with the troop and had a decent time- minus the flooded tent and a bit of throwing up in the middle of the night.  He’s earned his first merit badge, and seems to be getting along pretty well.  It’s kind of nice that he has something to be involved in that he is excited about and that was his idea.

But a couple of weeks ago, the assistant scout master asked if I was willing to get a little more involved.  Maybe I could be start training to be an assistant scout master or at least a volunteer… Yeah, sure.  I would love to be involved.

Except…

The Boy Scouts require all of their members and volunteers to affirm a belief in god.

That’s not a problem for my son.  He still goes to church with his mom and (I guess) believes in the magic man in the sky.  He knows that I don’t believe all of that.  We’ve even had conversations about what an atheist is and what the difference is between an atheist and someone who just doesn’t go to church.  But that’s not the problem.

To be a scout leader or volunteer, I would have to sign a form professing my belief in a god of some form.  I’m not sure I could do that.  I would love to be involved and go on camping trips with him and maybe even help out in a more formal fashion, but I can’t sign something that isn’t true.

I’ve tried to rationalize this by considering a humanist point of view, (and this is my finagling of the definition) that humans are the “higher power” in the world, and thus “god”.  I’ve even read articles that show that Buddhists and Universalist Unitarians are accepted as scouts even though they don’t necessarily believe in a god, per se.

I don’t know what exactly to do.

Maybe I’m still trying to work out my openness as someone who doesn’t believe in a god to be able to come to a conclusion.

Maybe I’ll have a discussion with the leadership next week and see what their opinion is.

Leaving the Fold, Exercise 5.1

I started reading Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion by Dr. Marlene Winell.  I had seen it referenced by several others, but recently I’ve been stressing about some of the feelings I’ve been having as a result of moving on from christianity.  Being one to look for answers, I came across this book again, so I decided to give it a go.

Throughout the book are exercises that the reader can complete in order to clarify his/her thinking on a number of issues that are discussed in the book.  Following is my response to Exercise 5.1.

Take some time to review your own reasons for deciding to leave your religion…

Reason 1: Early on it was cognitive dissonance.  When I left home to join the Army, I realized that many the things my church preached against were not all that bad.  I had my first drink of alcohol and the world didn’t fall apart around me.  I had relationships with women, some sexual, most not, and the world didn’t fall apart around me.  There are other things that continued to give me cognitive dissonance throughout my adult life.  Whenever the church said something and the facts didn’t match up with what they were saying, I kept the faith, but eventually these distinct items piled up so high that I left my original church in a rather heated way.  In the book, Winell related the story of a man who was asking questions of his pastor, and the pastor had no logical response.  The pastor finally told him to face the fact that his asking these sorts of questions were nothing more than sin, effectively cutting him off from further questioning.  This is very similar to how I left my original church.  I started asking questions about the specifics of the oneness pentecostal doctrine that set it apart from the rest of christianity.  I sent a letter to the pastor asking him to clarify or justify some of these specifics according to the bible.  After a series of email exchanges, he finally said the following at the close of his last email:

I will say again: you are making a huge carnal-minded human-will motivated mistake. No Child of God, truly submitted to the will of God, would have taken the steps away from Truth that you have taken. You’ve made decisions that, in time, your family will regret; they could even lose confidence in and respect for you.

Again, cognitive dissonance: My family seems to have more respect and confidence in me than ever before.

Reason 2: Facts and information.  After leaving that church I started trying to find the right version of christianity; you know, the one that is completely in line with the bible, as close to the original church as is modernly possible, and has a direct connection to the original church.  What I discovered was that there are way too many versions of christianity, and all of them differ in meaningful ways, and most of them reject the others because they aren’t teaching the truth.  As this search continued, I found books about the problems with the transmission and writing of the bible, the historicity of the biblical accounts, and the archaeological finds that disprove biblical accounts. These books lead to other books about the problems with christianity itself.  I realized that christianity doesn’t hold up when examined point by point.  After learning all this new information there was no way I could continue to call myself a christian or believe in any of its tenets.  I think it is important to point out that I wouldn’t have gone down this road if it weren’t for my incessant need to be “right”.  All I wanted to do was find the truth.  My main goal was to find the right church so I could be right in god’s eyes.  Now from the other side of this experience, I see the real irony in it all; I was trying to find god, and in the process I lost him.  It’s not that I really believe that I lost him.  The truth is, I don’t see any evidence for the existence of a supernatural being of any type, and especially not the one portrayed in the christian bible.

Reason 3: Christian love.  The more I think about it, the more I realize how truly unhappy I was with the relationships I had with fellow christians.  They were all very flat; they were surface-level relationships with no real substance.  After church, shaking hands with people I remember all the hugs and “I love you, brother”s, but when it came down to it, none of them were really interested in me as a person or my thoughts or feelings.  All they cared about was what I could do for the church.  After leaving both churches, only a small handful of people even checked in on me in a meaningful way.  And the causes they supported weren’t really doing anything good in the world: “Let’s send missionaries to Africa to starving, homeless people, not so we can feed and clothe them, but to convert them to our religion, because their eternal soul is more important than their physical suffering…” Total BS!

There are other things I could write about that caused me to leave, but I think these were the big three.  The cognitive dissonance lead me to try to learn as much as I could, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  And all of this was underpinned by a need for deeper, more meaningful relationships with other people, not the flat relationships I had in the church.  It’s a lot easier to see these things looking back.  At the time, I was mostly feeling a great mental and psychological stress and even went into a serious depression for a while.  To this day I still deal with the lingering effects of that depression.  Hopefully reading this book will help me work though these issues and get me on track to get on with life.

That is all.

Sordid Stories From A Former Life

With this whole Kim Davis (the county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses despite a supreme court order) situation being in full swing, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to enlighten the viewing public on her version of christianity.  I, myself, was raised in her particular version of christianity, oneness pentecostalism.  When I was old enough to leave home and do things for myself, I became a member at a church which belongs to the same denomination that Kim Davis currently belongs to.  I think I have an understanding of her and her church’s mindset, since I was raised in it and fully bought in to it until my mid thirties.

The following are true occurrences from the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) that I attended, and still have a few contacts with, mostly through my wife, who has occasional friends who still attend there.

The pastor of the church has two daughters, daughter 1 and Carla.  Daughter 1 is married to son in law 1, who is the brother of Patrick.  Patrick used to be married to Carla.  They were married when Carla was still in high school by the pastor’s mother, who was the former pastor of the church.  Her words, upon the announcement of this marriage were, “It’s better to marry than to burn.”

After giving birth to a son and enjoying a few years of wedded bliss, Patrick and Carla divorced and Patrick left the church for a little while to regain his composure, or whatever.  Eventually he returned and got involved once again in the church.  A while later, Patrick married Wendy, who is the daughter of Judy.  Judy is the second cousin or some close relation of the pastor’s mother, so there is a family connection there.  So Patrick and Wendy get married and Wendy gets pregnant.  Shortly after Wendy gets pregnant, she finds out that Patrick was having an affair with a coworker, who ends up pregnant as well.  They get divorced.  So now Patrick has three sons from three different mothers, and two of the sons are within a month or so of each other.

All while this is happening, the pastor’s personal assistant and the official church decorator, Donna, decides to divorce her husband, who is also a faithful member of the church.  I’m not sure of the details, but the rumors are that they hadn’t been happy for years and were waiting for both of their kids to grow up and leave home before they split.

I have no real evidence of this, but it’s my opinion that the pastor and Donna might have been/currently are having an affair.  One night (several years ago) at a youth function in the gym, I was showing a guy from another church around the facility.  He asked to see the sanctuary of the church, so I took him through the back door to the platform.  The pastor was sitting at the piano, playing softly, while Donna was sitting on the piano bench by his side with her stocking feet up on the bench and her arms curled around her legs.  The lights in the sanctuary were low.  As soon as I walked in, I felt like I had invaded a special moment.  I let the guy look around and quickly ushered him out.

Donna was still married to Mark at the time.  It wasn’t until after I left the church that they divorced.  I don’t know the current situation with Donna, except that she is still a very central figure to the happenings at the church.  However, I do know about her husband, Mark.

After the divorce, Mark married Kerri.  Kerri had previously been married to Brian, who has been the bass guitar player for the church since before I was going there.  Brian apparently had some alcoholic issues so he and Kerri divorced, then remarried, then divorced again.  And now Kerri is married to Mark.

Brian, meanwhile married Alisha, who is the brother of one of the former ministers in the church, Chris.  Chris, who had been married to his wife since they were young and in love, recently divorced his wife and went off and married some “tattooed, pierced floozie”, as one of my wife’s friends called her.

Back to Patrick and son in law 1-  Their dad, or step dad, or whatever he is, several years ago indecently exposed himself to some kids and was sent to prison for several years and is now a registered sex offender.  I recently went to a party held at Judy’s house in honor of Wendy’s son.  Patrick and son in law’s dad was there and everyone just treated him like he was part of the family; no worries about the kids or anything whatsoever.

The weirdest part of this whole situation is that ALL of them refuse to find another church.  They all insist on continuing to go faithfully every Sunday and Wednesday to sit near their former spouses, etc. and hear “the word of god” as preached by a pastor who claims that none of the other churches in town have “the truth”.  I recall once in a sermon he said something to the effect of: “If you want to hear preaching that makes you feel good about your sin, go to the church down the street.  But if you want the truth, and to make it to heaven, you have to stay in the boat.”  And by boat, he meant his church.

If this is not the definition of a cult, I don’t know what is!

That is my experience with the kind of church Kim Davis attends.  Now you know what she means when she says that she’s an “apostolic” christian.  I’m not saying this goes on in every UPC/ apostolic church, but if the one I attended is any indication, there’s a good chance that it does.  No wonder Kim Davis has been divorced three times, yet still, in defiance of the supreme court, refuses to issue marriage licenses to those who she disagrees with because her pastor taught her to disagree with them.

Such a strange situation all around.

Shadows of a Former Life

So this crazy woman, Kim Davis, who is the county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, the one who is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even though the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of our gay brothers’ and sisters’ marriage rights, is a believer in the same faith that I escaped from.

When she first made the news I thought her hair style and manner of dress were a bit peculiar.  After a little research, I have confirmed my suspicions that she does, in fact, attend a UPCI church “whenever the doors are open”.  All of this sounds so familiar-  “we are a peculiar people”, “whenever the doors are open”…

Looking at the situation as it develops, from the original video where she denies a couple their marriage license up to this past week’s happenings, I can say that I am SO FUCKING HAPPY that I am no longer mixed up with that utter bullshit.

That’s it, folks.  Short post.  I just wanted to give you an example of what I once was and no longer am.  In the words of the old spiritual: “I once was blind, but now I see”!