I think it would interesting to hear tales of people's experiences from within the Christian community. I admit I'm envious of member's of this group who have been raised by intellectuals and free-thinkers, but I believe (hate that word) that there is a valuable perspective that can be shared by members who have actually lived among the "faithful". There seems to be inherent need within all humans to cling to community, which in my mind explain a lot about Christians; for me, it's also one of the reasons I seek a community here.
I was encouraged by Frink to give an inside perspective of the Southern Baptist Church (SBC) as I spent the first 20 years of my life suspended up to my eyes in their dogma; that's less than true, my brain more than anything was swimming in that scary blood-red Kool-Aid. I would like to do so in such a manner that's more interesting than mind-numbing; so hopefully the fascinating experiences will outweigh my plodding writing style.
There is really no beginning to my SBC memories, just as there is no real beginning to the memories of my younger, although thrilling years. I grudgingly admit that I'm annoyed with the number of years from then till now as I feel caught off guard by the age I've so suddenly become. I really expected that by the time I reached 50 I would be using a walker and peeing with glee in my Depends, but as it turns out, I feel pretty much the same with the exception that a back-flip has been omitted from my routine - I can only afford so many visits a year to the Chiropractor.
I don't resent my father as much as I should, I think that he was a good man making the best effort he could based on what he had somehow concluded as being true. He came from a strict family that based it's teaching style on the teaching style of the bible, "be afraid, be very afraid." His father was harsh, as corporal punishment was the normal expression for their conflict resolution. From all that I can determine they were very poor, and being poor and from the south leads to a certain mentality that can a best be described as "that old time religion". Those were the days of the depression, Billy Sunday, and fire and brimstone. Pascal"s wager was in full affect during that time and there was more shame in rational thinking than there was in religious rationalizing. I might say this repeatedly, but my questioning of the Christian faith has evolved to the point where I am less inclined to challenge the validity of the Bible and it's continually growing parade of religions, than I am to challenge and question the reasoning capacity of a person who makes any claim of faith that is built on unsubstantiated events and the necessity of nature's laws being suspended; especially since the suspension of said laws only happens in the past to people that can no longer be questioned.
I however diverge from the intent of this blog.
In the language of the modern day Sadducee (ironically most Christians won't get the reference), I was "born again" at the intellectually mature age of eight. It's highly encouraged to make this decision early in life even though other decisions that are probably less significant are discouraged i.e. dating, sex, marriage, voting, picking a hair style or dress length, sexual orientation, etc etc. It baffles me beyond words trying to grasp the idea that a child is considered "properly educated and prepared" to make a decision about the origins of life and the history of man and the presence of super-natural beings at the tender age of eight; no wonder people raised in that culture are so dysfunctional! On a side note, I have to comment that the most frustrating thing to me as an Atheist is the response I get from Christians once I find myself engaged in a debate. There is always the tendency for them to get to a point in conversation where they say that they need to read more or worse, that that particular question falls into the realm of "someday we will understand." It just blows me away that a person could "believe" something so fantastical and not be completely familiar with it.It also seems that most Christians either refuse to learn the history of their particular version of their religion or they don't have access to that information, who knows why but it seems ....how do I say? Stupid!
So I remained under the tutelage of the church, before and beyond my "rebirth" and I begin looking for ways to express my new found destiny. I attended Christian summer camps, I went to youth rallies, I taught at vacation bible schools, I went on bible study retreats, and I continued to "re-dedicate" my life whenever I sensed that the emotional momentum was lagging. My life was a continuous injection of Christian ideals and a persistent denial of all things "unChristian". If I had to pick a single idea that had a lasting and profound influence on my life though it would have to be the second coming of Christ. During my youth, it was a very popular theme that the second coming of Christ was not only imminent, it was probably going to happen tomorrow or maybe the next day. There was no end to my worry that I was going to be caught off guard, or even worse, caught with my faith down around my ankles. My most guarded and secret worry though was that Christ was going to come back before I was able to get my sex on! Not only did that idea constantly plague me but I also had to deal with the secret guilt of thinking that that was a pretty nasty thing to be worried about, as base and embarrassing as sex is you know. I didn't know why I had to go to school and I especially didn't understand the point in going to college. Prepare for a career? Why? Understand algebra? Who cares, what use is algebra in heaven? However, Christ delayed his journey to earth and I ended up at a Christian college right smack in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt, Bolivar Missouri. After 3 years, I finally found a girl that would agree to marry me and thus allow me to allay one of my major fears regarding the second coming. A lot has happened between then and now, but I have to say, my proudest achievement in life is right here on Atheist Now, my daughter by that marriage is a professing Atheist and we have an incredible relationship.
So that is my experience as I remember it, constant indoctrination punctuated with a smoking fear of hell. I can now objectively say that every experience I had with the "Holy Spirit" was actually an experience of emotion. I still have emotional experiences, the only difference now is that I don't have to worry about the translation of those feelings into the English language, they're just emotions, whether evoked by tragedy or a sappy commercial with a sad eyed puppy. I have not found that my emotional life has become shallow nor I have found that I am not in possession of a moral compass. If anything, I have found that I'm more inclined than ever to make a contribution to my fellow man, whether is being a good steward of the earth or a caring hand to the random homeless person. It's been a relief not struggling with "guilt motivation" and the push to include a message with the charity.
You hit on one key that it took me a long time to discover: "I didn't know why I had to go to school and I especially didn't understand the point in going to college. Prepare for a career? Why? Understand algebra? Who cares, what use is algebra in heaven?"
Essentially an unconceous root of thought for many christians is, "if it won't help me today or tomorrow, it won't help me get into heaven, and it won't help me once I do get to heaven; then I don't need it."
This is most true when it comes to thought, logic, and knowledge. "Why learn or questions things that won't help achieve the heaven goal?" Once I realized some of my friends and elders thought like this, it really opened my eyes.
Wow, this was great. I have to say everytime I hear reference to pascal's wager I think of the scene in the mummy with the cowardly person holding up religious symbols one by one from all major faiths praying for protection. I think it's great that you and your daughter have a great relationship. Mine is only 8 so I let her believe. But at some age in the future I plan on telling her my beliefs and let her decide for herself.