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I was born and raised in a small town located within the Bible Belt of the United States. I grew up in church. My parents are both religious and very good people. My relatives are all religious that I know of. A very close-knit loving group of people to belong to. My childhood memories are full of church and the faith. Southern Baptist was the denomination I belonged to. A very non-condemning perspective among the believers. Accept Jesus as your personal savior and you are saved. You are written into the book of life eternal. No sins above reprieve. The only unforgivable sin was to not accept Jesus as your savior.
My grandfather had been a deacon in that church, but he had died before I was born. My mother has played the piano for service there since before I was born. I was part of the ‘family’ of my church, my community.
When I was very young I told my mother that I wanted to get baptized. She thought me too young, and told me to wait. I was confused back then on what it took to be saved. I thought that you had to be baptized to be saved. I didn’t understand until several years later that baptism was only symbolic in our faith. My mother finally agreed to my baptism after I spoke to her of my intense fear of going to hell if I did not become baptized, and therefore to my then-young mind saved, first.
Growing up I learned all of the major stories in the Bible. Jonah and the Whale, Samson, Moses, Noah’s Flood, the Crucifixion, etc. I reveled in them. I had a particular fondness for the book of Revelation. How we, the faithful, would be snatched up to Heaven when Jesus returned. And then all the tribulations. All the hardship and horrific hell on earth miracles. I was fascinated by them.
As I grew up I began to learn of other things. Evolution. I can’t even remember when it first was born into my consciousness. I never saw a problem with it or any conflict with Genesis. I easily imagined a scenario that accommodated both.
My mother was very proud at how devout I was. How much I learned about the Bible. How strong I believed. She would tell my father that I would grow up to be a Missionary or Preacher. I too thought I might. So I aged. Religion always a part of my consciousness, Sunday Bible School, Sunday Service, Wednesday Night Service, summer religious camp, the annual play of the birth of Christ. I played a Wise Man once, presenting my gift to the baby Jesus in my family church.
After I graduated from High School I attended a local community school. I worked for the school newspaper, mainly drawing a weekly comic strip, but occasionally submitted articles as well. I got into an argument over abortion with a girl there who also worked on the newspaper over abortion. Her stance was that abortion was simply a woman’s right to choose. My stance was that while I did not agree that it should be illegal to have an abortion, it was inherently wrong to do so.
The next Edition of the newspaper carried on our discussion to the entire school. In her opinion only. She stated that though there are those that say they are Christian say it is wrong to get an abortion they forget that she is a Christian too. She also talked about homosexuals. How can God make homosexuals if he condemns them? I naturally was angry at her taking a personal argument public and wrote a response to the article. I pointed out that anyone could say they were a Christian. However, it was much more difficult to actually be a Christian. I also pointed out that Homosexuality was a label that was given to a human that partook of a sinful pastime. Sin was going against God’s wishes.
A total of four responses were given to her article. My article was very calm. The other three were very angry. One even sounding like a frothing madman saying that homosexuals should be put down like dogs for God. I was shocked at such a mindset.
The response I had given was taken extremely proudly by my church. They made copies of it and passed it out to everyone one Sunday at the service. The pastor beamed at me and told the entire congregation what a wonderful Christian young man they had in their midst. How much I understood God’s loving nature and commandments. My mother was so proud. I thought that I knew God so intimately. How much his will flowed through me. How close was my obedience to his plan.
I encountered non-believers occasionally. People spouting that they did not believe that an All Loving God would condemn someone to Hell. I patiently would tell them that He wasn’t. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross was like a life preserver to escape from the sin that condemned them to hell. Just reach out and take it. If you refuse his sacrifice and proclaim that God would not let you drown you were blind because you refused the salvation he offered.
And so it went.
I decided to join the military at the age of 22. It was at this time that I encountered the first moment that led me on my current path. And oddly enough it was not an atheist, a non believer, nor a believer in another religion that started it all. It was a believer in Christ of another denomination in my own religion that began it all.
I had an argument on Salvation. Baptists, at least the ones I was taught by, believed in “Once Save, Always Saved”, Surety of the Believer. Once you gave yourself to God no one, not even yourself could be snatched from his hand. He espoused Apostasy. “Falling from Grace.” That a saved person, through falling into sinful ways could become unsaved or blotted from the Book of Life.
The argument of course led nowhere during it’s discussion. Though it did not end there in my mind. I was confused. The other Christian knew the Bible well and provided many parts of the scripture in defense. I also had scripture in my defense but no one convinced anyone. So I thought.
How could I be sure? How would I know if I could or had lost salvation? I would need to learn more of the Bible obviously. If the stakes are my eternal soul then I by all means, need to learn. So I studied. And found opposing views in the Bible.
I call them now contradictions. But heresy in my mind back then. The Bible is the inerrant Word of God. How could such contradictions exist in a perfect God’s word to his people on how to achieve Salvation and live life? My questions, left unanswered satisfactorily, clearly pointed still to the fact that such a thing existed. How could I know then, which is the way to ensure Salvation? If God had indeed allowed the Holy Bible to become corrupt as indeed now seemed it had, how can I know?
I must think on it. I must use my God given intellect to find His answer.
So I thought. On a great many things. Who God was, How he wanted us to live, How he meant for us to live. All of these ideas traveling through my mind while I traveled from country to country in the military. I watched thousands of faithful Muslims clogging the streets of Turkey, kneeling on Prayer Rugs, praying toward Mecca. Buddhist monks wandering through streets in orange robes and solemn expressions.
I brooded. And thought. What if I had been born to Muslim parents in an Islamic State like Saudi Arabia? Certainly I would be a Muslim right now. I know that Christianity teaches you to spread His word, then you are no longer responsible for that person. After that it is between the person and God. God will speak to them. Inside themselves. If they do not allow Him in then that person is to blame. Not the messenger. But still. If my parents, relatives, community…if they were Muslims…I don’t see how I could convert to Christianity. I would believe what I was taught, what I was raised in, what all my elders told me was true. Would God allow it to be so coincidental? I was so lucky to be born in the “right” faith? Would I not think the same thing if I was raised Muslim or some other religion? What about Odin? Zeus? Jupiter? Were those people wrong because they happened to be taught by their family and community to believe in a false god? I could not conceive of a loving, perfect god that would allow it to be so random. He has all the control over all of reality. Why would he be so cruel and leave it up to random chance?
The only way I could answer that was to think that all religions are a path to God. Each is a certain people’s way of connecting to the God of humanity and being faithful.
Then I met more people. Very good people. Very kind, loving generous people. These people did not believe in any religion.
The love and compassion they carried though, the dignity and calm kindness… These people are condemned to Hell?
Would my all loving God do such a thing to such people? Not through good works do we get to Heaven my Christian indoctrination would respond. Words yes. Logical plan for eternal salvation? No…no. This makes no sense. Why would the loving God I was raised to believe in do such a thing? What kind of…well not only a sinful human, but a perfect god would do such a thing?
I admitted to myself…at the same age that Jesus supposedly started his ministry, the age of 30, that I no longer believed in any possible god that humanity knows of. I suspect that there is nothing that can be called a god. I can not believe that any specific thing we say about any god we think we know is true is actually real.
I did not want to call myself atheist at first. I thought it was arrogant as well as the evil connotations assigned to it. However, if atheist simply means the lack in a belief of a god…I’m...I must be one.
Am I evil now? Do I have no morals? I have three beautiful daughters, a loving wife. I am faithful, kind, I do not steal, lie, I treat others with kindness, I do not abuse anyone physically or mentally, I love. I want to be a good person. I want to be a kind person. But now Christians tell me I was never saved at all. I “never knew God”. I ask of them, “How can you know?” How would you be able to say now with all confidence that you are definitely saved? At the age of 10, 15, 20, 25, I would have told you with all confidence I was saved. They would have agreed with me back then. But now I am an atheist.
An outcast. Hiding myself from my parents and relatives. Keeping silent in matters of God with them…yet very angry at how badly religion had deceived me. And grieving at how my family is still deceived. I, the evil atheist that rejected God for simply trying to make sure that I was saved and in God’s good grace and salvation. I just wanted to make sure I was doing right. I discovered that it was all a lie.
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