i was raised by my xian parents in the catholic church (though my dad was protestant and my mom didn't agree with a lot of catholic doctrine, her theology was more born again) and never really thought much of it. church was a boring place i was forced to go to on sundays and miss some good cartoons for. even worse when i started having ccd classes on saturdays and miss the REALLY good cartoons. i went through a skeptical phase at age 7 when i stopped believing in santa claus, the easter bunny, and god. my parents made no effort to make me believe in santa or the bunny again, but they did convince me that there was a god (which i still believe, but it sure ain't the one i was raised to believe in). that was kind of the end of it for a while, nothing really changed, and i still didn't see much point to church, why would God care about me going to a stupid building, but i was shut up by the threat of no longer recieving christmas presents.
one thing that did scare me was the idea of hell, but i was never really taught any clear theology growing up (some of what mom and dad said conflicted with what i learned in ccd class/church), and basically figured you had to be REALLY bad to go to hell, so i didn't think much of it, i was bad, and sent to several alternative elementary schools because of my rebelliousness (blamed on ADD, as every case of rebelliousness was back then) but i never killed anyone (wanting to, on the other hand, was another matter, especially when i hit middle school).
anyway, middle school was hell on earth, the two things that kept me from killing myself during those years was the thing i heard in ccd class about people who kill themselves going straight to hell, and the desire to exact vengeance upon the worst of my tormentors when i got older and was able to. this also affected my view of church, as some of the very same kids in my ccd classes were the ones who were picking on me, which further alienated me from the catholic church
anyway, my freshman year of high school was more of the same crap from middle school, only with the added bonus of removing the one thing that made middle school slightly bearable: being able to play games on the school computers at certain times. anyway, the principal convinced my parents to find private schooling for me (they desperately wanted me to be someone else's problem).
well, the search mainly focused on religious schools. and i ended up at a small non-denominational conservative fundamentalist high school. now at public school when it came to matters of "fact" i blindly believed what the adults taught. including evolution. but in one of my first classes the teacher started using (what i now regard as rather dubious) science to "prove" 6 day young earth creationism. this was the first time i was ever taught something that directly opposed what other adults taught (parents and ccd teachers tended to try to seperate the "spiritual" from the "scientific", and would answer tough questions with platitudes about "faith" and "just believing"). see, despite the fact that i was resitant to being controlled by adults, i wasn't quite so resistant to believing what they taught (it is only later that i realised that the latter can be used to accomplish the former). but now for the first time in my life one authority figure was caliming that other authorit
Now, in light of my experience with the public schools, and my experience with this school being somewhat better (i was not instantly ostracised, probably because there were some genuinely good-hearted students who were actively trying to live the Christian life in its positive aspects), I was quite receptive to this kind of information, and hungrily soaked up this new knowledge of the "REAL TRUTH". Along with various political dogmas that I was beginning to take strong interest in, being already sympathetic to the pro-life stance (a belief i hold to this day - my first reaction at 9 years old upon being told by a (most likely pro-choice) teacher what abortion was (in response to my question concering what exactly "right to life party" meant on the political ballot), was "but what happens to the baby?") i adopted other conservative stances, especailly since my history teacher would often talk about politics.
As i became more right wing and soaked up fundamentalist doctrine, I started watching the 700 club. Over that year, my sophomore year of high school, was when my "conversion" began, as that was the first time i had started taking religion seriously.
One other thing happened during the middle of that year. Ironically, shortly after a school fieldtrip to the March for Life in Washington, an event happened that was the beginning of the single greatest source of internal conflict I had during my time as a Christian... my first orgasm.
Backing up a bit, I never had much use for girls during my childhood. This started to become a problem in my middle school years, because when most of the other kids were starting to be interested in sex and such, i wasn't. It wasn't until the summer between my freshman and sophomore years that puberty hit me full force (the year leading up to that, i was starting to develop some interest in the opposite sex but was mostly in denial about it) - i started thinking about girls a lot - however, i kept this a secret, as i felt like publically admitting this would be "letting the terrorists win" as my not liking girls was the source of a lot of the teasing i suffered in middle school. I avoided dealing with dating issues at my new school by proclaiming that dating and marriage and love and stuff was a waste of time and money that would be better spent on video games and laser tag. all the while secretly lusting after several pretty girls.
anyway, while watching a scene in some teen drama on fox, i got incredibly horny. that night while lying in bed i couldn't stop thinking about the scene and, well, i experienced a good, yet extremely frightening feeling from rubbing up against the mattress. it's weird cause it was like halfway between masturbation and a wet dream. but i was addicted from that point on. I discovered hbo movies with nudity.
this of course, became a problem later on. That summer while watching the 700 club i officially prayed the sinner's prayer and officially got "saved". over the next year, as i studied the bible more, i ran into the problem. up till then, i thought it was just having premarital sex that was a sin. But some bible verses about "lust" revealed to me that even THINKING about it was a sin if you weren't married. But i didn't have the willpower to stop, no matter how much i prayed for it. It just felt too good, and i was just at core too immediate-gratification oriented to resist. This of course, became the single greatest source of guilt for me for the next 10 years.
anyway, high school eventually ended, and i went to college. i went into college a thoroughly brainwashed hard core right wing fundamentalist. i went in thinking i was singlehandedly going to shoot down all the liberal professors arguments, that the last 3 years had equipped me to battle the godless forces of evil that were trying to make homosexuality acceptable, ban prayer from schools, and slaughter innocent unborn children. I also championed such godly causes as the flat tax and the balanced budget. I spent inordinate amounts of time on internet political message boards arguing with people.
Around that time I joined Campus Crusade. It pretty much functioned for me as my church at that point, as I still saw nothing worthwhile about the catholic church i had grown up with, and since i had no clue where to go denomination wise, i found the music in CCC more entertaining than traditional hymns, i had no transportation of my own anyway, and they taught what i held to be reasonably orthodox doctrine (although at that point in life i had no firm stance on "nitpicky" issues like charismatic gifts - i know many of my teachers at school came from charismatic backgrounds, but had never seen it manifested) I also at that point gave up on maintaing the pretense of not being interested in girls (although was still painfully shy and incapable of doing anything like asking a girl out)
Toward the end of that year came the first major disillusionment with something I had previously respected. I was not prepared for the College Republicans to be so godless. I thought that the Republicans would me mainly made up of conservative Christians like myself, imagine my shock that so many of these people underage drank, and openly had and approved of premarital sex! This began the process that ultimately ended with my disillusionment with politics, the political system, and the American people as a whole that followed.
Now during my time with CCC, i had developed a liking for Christian music. Never being heavily into music in my teenage years (i spent my radio listening time listening to talk radio), i had heard some of the more "alternative" christian music at CCC events and took a liking to it. needing something to be my "thing" now that politics wasn't, i started getting really into it, and seeking out concerts. my tastes started gravitating to more extreme styles, and as i left college due to being directionless, eventually underground christian concerts became my new thing. i also went to a couple baptist churches, but got lazy about getting up on sunday morning. so the christian music scene kind of became my "church" for a while.
anyway, this was how it was for a few years till i decided to return to college. when i got to college, i found out about an alternative church that tended to cater to "non-conformist" christians (in the space of 3 years i had evolved from conservative republican into politically apathetic "punk") anyway i started to go there since i felt like i belonged, which had never really been the case at any other church i had been to. plus the services were at a reasonable time in the afternoon.
anyway, i went there, until the charismatic doctrines the were teaching started getting stranger. they started teaching some things that just didn't seem right, namely the word-faith "name it claim it" stuff. i was crushed, cause i was sure that God really did talk to my pastor, since he was such a godly man, but there was no silencing that logical part of my mind that said "he just quoted that verse completely out of context"
this led to my doubting the reality of any of the charismatic stuff, that anybody gets any personal direct revelation from god. I had never manifested any charismatic manifestations, truth be told i was kind of scared, but i really wanted to believe they were of god since this was such a good church in every other aspect (at least as i saw things at the time - i recoil in horror at how blatantly anti-thinking it was)
this led to a major reexamination of my faith. for a long time i had avoided asking tough questions. mainly cause i didn't like having my faith shaken. but here it was, already shaken, and i couldn't ignore the questions. as i asked the questions, i found i didn't have a satisfactory answer for "How is it any more loving for God to use threat of pain to induce compliance than it is for him simply to use his omnipotence to make one want to comply?" - as for so long i had been taught that "God loved us enough to give us free will" - since I could see how blatantly unfair calvinism was, i had never even really considered it.
I didn't. I also didn't have a satisfactory answer for how God was not a horrible person for making people predestined to go to hell. My thoughts were in turmoil. I was also in great fear, after reading some unsettling verses and looking at myself honestly. I realised that I didn't love people, not by the Bible's definition of love - which is unselfish. Furthermore, I couldn't. Because was i to try to love, I would be doing so out of a selfish motivation, that of avoiding Hell, which would make it not love, which means it wouldn't count. I realised I had no free will, not as the bible understands free will, since my motivations and desires aren't under my conscious control. I couldn't help the fact that I was selfish. Trying not to be selfish for selfish reasons would make me no less selfish. Whcih meant, most likely, I was not one of the "elect".
this scared the shit out of me and i began searching the web. maybe there's a convincing argument for another interpretation of that verse. i was hoping to find biblical proof of annihilationism. instead i found a concept that was even more appealing: "Christian Universalism"
I latched onto that concept for a while. it took a while for me to finally take the step of saying i'm gonna believe this, as that old Pascal's Wager argument held pretty strong... basically this belief system opened up the idea that the bible was mistranslated...
however opening up that little hole ultimately led to examining the history of the bible with a new critical eye. and finding it wanting. finally i rejected my belief in the bible, my final disillusionment.
so after being disillusioned with first politics, then country, then mainstream christians, then alternative christians, then god's communication, then god's goodness, and finally the bible, i'm not sure what i believe.
I know there is some sort of God. I can't make the logical leap neccessary to believe everything came from nothing. Nor can I believe that the design we find in the universe is the result of random chance. But i don't think that God is interested in communicating with us, or he would have done so in a non-ambiguopus manner that we don't have to rely on merely the word of other humans or questionable "supernatural" experiences to verify. I waver between the idea that he has a foreordained plan set out, which i can only hope will be to the good of all (something i hope but have no evidence for) and the idea that God is just an impersonal observer, and we're all just his mad experiment. So i guess you could say i'm agnostic between deism and theism...