Let me begin by explaining what I mean by born again evangelical atheist. By born again, I refer to a definite point in time that ended all discussion of the existence of a god for me. It was an “aha” moment, much like born again Christians describe in their conversion process. For me it was a moment when I finally said “That’s it! I am done with god”. By evangelical I mean that I feel it is my moral obligation to relieve the world of its current god based delusions. I believe that the future of the world hangs in the balance.
At the time of my “aha” moment I already described myself as a militant non-Christian, based on extensive research into the facts, or indeed lack thereof, for this belief system, although I had not entirely eliminated the possibility of a god. The route by which I came to discover the lies, cover-ups and inconsistencies in Christianity was arduous indeed. It never dawned on me at the beginning of my search that the whole thing would unravel before my eyes. It was not the outcome I expected, nor did I accept it easily. I continued to cling as long as possible to the system of belief in which I was raised. Even when Christianity fell by the wayside, I clung as long as possible to the concept of some sort of a god.
Perhaps we should begin at the beginning.
I was raised as a Catholic in America, my indoctrination beginning shortly after my birth with my baptism. Although I can honestly claim no memory of this event, I do have very early memories of being in the “cry room” at church. I have no memory as a tike, of anyone in my world who was not also a member of our church. As I got older, I simply presumed everyone was Catholic because it never dawned on me that there were other possibilities. I may have been as old as 7 or 8, before I realized that some of the people in my neighborhood were not Catholic, but protestant. I surely did not meet anyone who was not Christian until well into my teen years. I was sent to Catholic schools, including an all girl Catholic high school. In elementary school, religion was a subject which was taught just like reading, writing, science and math. The “facts” about God and Jesus were presented in exactly the same format as facts about math and sentence structure. I had no reason to question these so called facts.
The first thing that happened, to test my faith, was that my best friend died of cancer when we were both just 13 years old. I remember praying and crying for hours to God to let her live. When it became obvious that she would die in spite of my prayers, I prayed and cried for more hours that she not suffer. It was excruciating to watch her suffering. I prayed to God to let me share her suffering, or to even take it from her entirely and give it to me. Needless to say, my prayers were not answered, and I was left at the ripe old age of 14 (my birthday was 2 days after her funeral) with a broken heart, a shattered world, and a God who ignored my fervent prayers.
I did not become particularly angry at God for this, nor did I begin to doubt his existence, or any of the Jesus story. I was inconsolable for many months, and wrestled with trying to understand this event. I was fed the standard “God works in mysterious ways” and “God must need her more than we do” clichés. They did not ease my grief, nor could I understand how God could possibly need my best friend more than I did. Really, in the big scheme of things, couldn’t she hang around with me for another 20 or 30 years? I accepted it because there were no other explanations offered. While I did not question the existence of God, I began to seriously question his methods and motives.
Karen died in June, and after crying myself to sleep virtually every night all summer, I began another 4 years of Catholic school, in the fall. After the grief subsided a bit, I began to try to wrap my mind around the whole thing, never dreaming to go outside the frame of reference of my upbringing for answers. I talked about it fairly extensively with my close friends, but rarely with any of the adults at school. Now, the other girls were all a gaga over one of the guidance counselors. They could go to him at any time, for help with the various crises in their lives. They could go on about their parents, their boyfriends, or even their teachers, while he lent a sympathetic ear, and offered sound advice. I avoided him like the plague, lest he find out about Karen, and my inconsolable grief. I am not altogether sure what my rationale was at the time, but I think it had to do with my idea that I had to keep my grief under control in public. I still cried fairly regularly when I thought no one could hear me, but unless I told my new friends and teachers at school, they did not know about my private grief. Instead of the big white disc of a soul in my chest that we were taught about in religion class, I felt only a big black emptiness. A void so vast I feared being sucked into its abyss if I exposed it for someone else to examine. More’s the pity, I suppose, as most of us are now aware of the wonderful works of Dr Wayne Dyer, my counselor. His books and lectures have helped thousands of people make sense of their lives.
In high school I did eventually examine Christianity itself to see if it was “true” and came to the erroneous conclusion that it was. I now realize that I really did not look further than my own back yard for evidence. Once I concluded that Christianity was true, I briefly explored some of the protestant religions with representative people or churches in the neighborhood, to see if any of them were better than Catholicism. This upset my father greatly as I recall. I don’t know if the church’s official stance was still “no salvation outside the church” while I was growing up, but I am fairly certain that it was his firm belief. Luckily for him though, I saw no more logic or truth in any of them than I did in Catholicism. I decided to stay where I was, not because it seemed like the best place, but because nothing else looked any better. I had plenty of issues with the Catholic religion, but the others had just as many, or even more, so I figured I might as well stick where I was. Sort of a “bloom where you are planted” solution. I was not satisfied, but did not even know what questions to ask, or where to go for answers.
As the years went by, I cried a little less, but never forgot about Karen. I don’t suppose I thought about it in exact terms, but I think on some level, I imagined that I had paid my dues in life. I imagined that the worst was behind me. Silly me.
I did, however, continue to explore Christianity and its history. I was not happy to find out how we came to celebrate Christmas when we do. It has nothing to do with when Jesus was born, since no one knows when that happened. Instead the early church took the path of least resistance, and placed the birth of Jesus at a time when most new converts were accustomed to celebrating the winter solstice. Part of winter solstice celebrations included bringing evergreens inside; they did this in the superstitious belief that the undying evergreens would increase their own chances of surviving these dark cold days and nights. They also feasted and lit as many lights as possible to brighten the darkest nights of the year. They did these things to mark the turning point from the darkest days to the lengthening days of spring, and to insure the return of the sun.
I found all this interesting, but it did no real damage to my religious faith; no more than had been done already that is. As time went on, and I read a bit more of the New Testament, it occurred to me that Jesus never meant to start a whole new religion, and really meant to work his new teachings into Judaism. I became very interested in Judaism, and even contemplated joining a group called Jews for Jesus. They thought I was nuts, of course, and I didn’t get far with them, which is just as well, since it was about this time that I found out the appalling truth about Easter. Not only is Easter a pagan holiday, but Easter is the name of the pagan goddess for whom it is celebrated. This is much more blatant than the rewriting of the winter solstice holiday into a Christian one. This time little if anything was done to disguise it. I seem to remember being taught that above all else paganism was a no-no to believers in the one god, and here we were with our two biggest religious holidays having been stolen from the pagan world. I was not amused. In fact I was somewhat traumatized by this information.
Still, I clung to my religion, albeit now with some deeply rooted suspicions. These things were all explained away by how the church managed to convert the various cultures it encountered by allowing them to keep some of their symbols and holidays. My trip to Ireland revealed the Celtic cross as the true pagan symbol it is with the circle representing the sun. Many “holy” sites in Ireland are ancient holy sites of pagans with nothing more than the name of the god or goddess turning into the name of a saint, with an accompanying “feast day” to replace the pagan rite of old. A very transparent process indeed.
Still, I believed in the foundation of my religious faith; the presumed historical facts about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. These are the facts that truly matter. The rest is just window dressing, and even though I thought the bible was pretty specific about not adopting pagan gods & rituals, the fact that we had, did not change the underlying facts.
All this went on while my life progressed in a fairly normal way. I got married in the Catholic Church, and agreed as part of my marriage vows to raise my children as Catholics, even though my husband was not a Catholic. I did however make sure the priest removed the bit about obeying my husband from the vows. I took my marriage vows seriously, and refused to make such a ridiculous promise. I maintained that if God wanted me to submit to man, he would not have made me smarter than ninety percent of them. At that time the promise to obey was still standard in a catholic marriage ceremony, and I had to specifically ask to have it removed. I doubt if they would have too many women in their churches if they maintained this medieval stance today.
As a young girl, I dreamt of having six children, but the reality of taking proper care of that many children stopped me after having four. In light of the financial and logistical reality of the project, I decided it was prudent to stay with four. If I had managed to have six in the time period in which I had four, I may have done it; but it didn’t work out that way.
I was completely unprepared by anything I was taught about the world to deal with the next body blow that came my way.
One fine day, my nine year old daughter handed me a note written on a succession of post it notes that changed the course of our lives forever. She informed me that any time I was out of sight or sound, her father exposed himself to her and rubbed his private parts on hers.
This was a revelation out of the blue to me; a lightning bolt that ripped my life apart at its very foundation. I knew that my husband was often unreasonable in his expectations of the children, and had the potential to be physically abusive, but I naively believed that he was at the core a good man.
The weeks and months that followed my daughters note are a blur of therapy, court proceedings, and trauma for all of us. The events that followed are the fodder of made for TV movies, with the possible exception that there has yet to be a happy ending that TV movies seem to always have. My life was torn asunder. The lives of my children were irreparably damaged, except for the fact that their abusive father was no longer in the picture.
He admitted his guilt (even though he actually suggested to the judge that his daughter seduced him) and was sentenced to 7 to 15 years in prison based on a plea bargain.
As for me and mine, I spent the next 2 ½ years in a therapists’ waiting room. I was forced to close a fledgling business that was my life’s dream. I drove for 1 ½ years with no car insurance and fed my children for four years with food stamps. It was revealed in therapy that my husband’s abuse of the children was in no way confined to his sexual abuse of his own daughter. Not only has he been sexually abusing her since she was barely out of diapers, but he was emotionally cruel and abusive to the boys as well. There seemed to be no end to the damage done by this man, or the repercussions in our lives.
The logistics of being a single mom of four kids were so overwhelming that I often said I did not have time to go to the bathroom. I was jealous of normal single moms who got child support and every other weekend off. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep was an unattainable goal for many years.
As the years went by, I began to wonder if there was perhaps a lesson to be learned from these events in my life. I pondered this off and on for many months. Then, one morning, just after waking up, but before actually getting up, I had a sudden thought.
Perhaps my lesson was forgiveness. I must learn to somehow forgive the monster who raped my three year old, physically & emotionally abused all of my children, and shattered my life completely.
I began to think about what it would mean to forgive this man. I did not know if it was possible. I had to forgive what he did to my life, but more importantly; I had to forgive what he did to my babies. To me this complicated the issue; made it a sort of three way problem. I felt that I had failed in my primary responsibility in life. After all, what is more important to a mother than the safety and well being of her children? My children were not safe with their own father. How could I not have known that? How could these things have happened right under my nose, behind my back, and while I did other things?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I did not have a clear understanding of what exactly it meant to forgive. Once again I turned to my faith.
Christianity failed for me first and perhaps foremost, from this ideological standpoint. I was looking for a way to forgive this unforgivable act. I began to think about how forgiveness functions within Christianity, as I had always considered it the foundation of my faith. After all, didn’t Jesus die for our sins? Are we not forgiven for our transgressions against God by this (rather gruesome) sacrifice? Does not Jesus call us to forgive our brother seven times seventy times? Do we not pray regularly for God to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”? I was raised on these words, and never questioned them or the ideas behind them. Somehow, though, they did not seem big enough or strong enough to apply to the forgiveness task at hand. This was more than a “trespass”. The bit about seven times seventy seemed to be referring to fairly inconsequential acts of forgiveness, the sheer numbers point to that idea. I mean, surely I am not expected to stand by and allow things of this sort to go on. Was I not also taught that there is a sort of hierarchy of sins? A venial sin is a minor sort of sin that we can be absolved from through the sacrament of confession, now called reconciliation, but a mortal sin would condemn us to hell forever.
This idea of mortal sin raises two issues for me. First of all, would not the crimes of Mr. Williams be classified as mortal sins? I should think so. I was taught that committing a mortal sin was a one way ticket to hell, unless a proper confession was made before death. God’s forgiveness is available to everyone, but we must seek it. If I were to commit a mortal sin, I would have to confess it and be extremely penitent and humble in order to be granted forgiveness and eventually brought back into the grace of God. There is understood to be quite a bit of groveling involved before God before actually grants this forgiveness, unless of course the confession is made on a deathbed. It all gets a bit confusing actually. At any rate, I have no idea if Mr. Williams has sought this forgiveness from God; he has certainly never sought it from me or his children. Am I therefore under no obligation to forgive him? Surely I am not to be held to a higher standard than we typically hold God. Forgiveness was beginning to become a rather elusive process.
The second issue the idea of mortal sin brings up is the whole idea of salvation through Jesus. I thought his sacrifice was supposed to be the final act of sacrifice for God. In the Old Testament, God required a rather complicated system of animal sacrifice for various sins, but Jesus was supposed to be the end all sacrifice. Jesus died and was sacrificed instead of us, or various animals, so now our sins are forgiven. But wait a minute, if our sins are forgiven, why do we still have to confess them? Why are there some sins from which we are not forgiven? Why do we have to believe that we are forgiven in order to be forgiven and granted salvation? Are we forgiven and saved, or aren’t we? If god wanted to forgive us, why couldn’t he just do it? Why all the drama?
Most of the time when we apply forgiveness in our own lives, there is a certain level of participation on the part of the person being forgiven, much like the model we find in Christianity. A transgression takes place, the transgressor seeks forgiveness, and the offended party grants forgiveness. Unfortunately, the transgressor often carries on as usual, which sets up an endless cycle of transgression and forgiveness, and leads inevitably to an abusive relationship. In my case, Mr. Williams never sought forgiveness, nor was I interested in repairing and carrying on with the relationship. This made forgiveness seem rather meaningless and unnecessary.
I spent a lot of time trying to make sense of this. I clung to the concept of “God is love” even though the bible is clearly filled with stories that directly contradict this, and the very paradigm of Christianity indicates a different god. Christian forgiveness is not even internally consistent. I could find no way to apply it in my life.
I have never been able to reconcile these ideas, and come to a place where forgiveness of the monster who raped my three year old was possible, necessary, or even functional. I found Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular to fall quite short on this level, so I began to explore the historicity of Christianity, in the hopes that somehow the truth had been misconstrued along the way, and if I got to the root of the matter, I would also find a model of forgiveness that would work for me. In other words, if I believed that Jesus suffered and died because I was bad, and that God allowed, even encouraged this to happen, I must also distort my concept of a loving God to include this transaction. My own act of forgiveness cannot function this way, so perhaps I was misunderstanding this very model of forgiveness.
I then began a search for the historical Jesus, along with an understanding of his “message”. The gospel accounts when read analytically and objectively are incredibly poor sources of information of any sort, so I looked for something outside the bible to validate the stories.
I spent a lot of time on this research. It was not long before I found out to my surprise, that there is exactly zero records of Jesus outside the biblical accounts. Not one source other than the New Testament even mentions this man, or any of the amazing things that he supposedly did. None of his miracles left any evidence for us. No one noticed, for instance, the earthquake or solar eclipse that supposedly took place when he died, or all the dead people that got up and walked around in town. I found this to be rather unlikely, but my Christian friends seemed to be confident that the gospel accounts themselves were history enough for these events, so I looked at them with a critical eye.
When reading the gospels, it becomes obvious rather quickly that they are not at all internally consistent, and that they present an impossible timeline. The first problem is with the genealogies in Mathew and Luke; which differ greatly. The birth story itself cannot be reconciled; as Mathew places it during the lifetime of Herod the Great who died in the spring of 4 BC and Luke puts it during the time that Quirinius was governor of Syria which did not take place til 6 CE, both cannot be true. Mathew places the birth in Bethlehem, but mentions nothing about a census, and says that the wise men went to a house to visit Jesus, not a stable and a manger.
This is all in the first few pages of the New Testament books, and the glaring contradictions and inconsistencies continue throughout. Even Christian scholars agree that the various resurrection stories cannot be reconciled. Clearly these are not historical accounts of any sort, at least not as they have come down to us today. Something seems to have gotten jumbled along the way. I began to look into just who wrote these books and when, which led me to more surprises. It turns out that except for some of the letters of Paul, no one knows who wrote these books! They were not written by the apostles, and they were originally written in Greek, which none of the eye witnesses would have spoken. It turns out that we do not have any of the original writings at all. We do not have copies of the originals, or copies of copies, or copies of copies of copies. We have many thousands of bits and pieces from the early centuries, some of them no bigger than a thumb nail, and NO TWO of them are alike! The earliest full manuscripts are from the third or fourth century. To paraphrase the words of the biblical scholar Bart Eherman….It would have been no more difficult for god to have preserved the original writings than it would have been for him to inspire them. Since he did not in fact preserve them, it raises serious doubts as to whether he inspired them. In his book “Misquoting Jesus” he explains how books were copied and distributed in those days and the inevitable changes and mistakes that happened along the way.
From there we must realize that these documents were under the strict control of the Catholic Church for more than a thousand years before they were translated into local languages; that the Catholic Church encouraged illiteracy in order to control the dissemination of information about dogma, and that anyone who was suspected of even thinking something unorthodox was summarily tortured and put to death.
The actual history of this religion is quite different than what the nuns taught me growing up. Instead of Jesus officially starting a new church, naming Peter as the head of it, and everybody agreeing on everything all along; we find that Jesus had no intention whatsoever of starting a new religion, early Christianity had many different sects and beliefs, and it was politics more than philosophy that shaped the Church in the early years.
How can this so called holy book be the inspired word of god, the inerrant word of god, or indeed have anything at all to do with a god, if people can read it and come up with no less than twenty thousand different belief systems based on it? How can we take anything it says seriously if it is subject to that kind of interpretation? Surely, if there was anything in there that actually came from some sort of a god; it would not be so muddy and ambiguous. Many of these diverse groups insist that only they have the story straight and will go to heaven after death. They believe that the others have it so wrong that they will be sentenced to eternal torture for their misunderstanding of this message. How can such a god even be possible?
I needn’t have gone to all this trouble though, really. I should have just stood back and taken an outsiders view right from the start. I would have seen the absurdity of it all much sooner if I had. Instead, I labored at this for many years, and I am still interested in debunking scripture, but this brings me to my “aha” moment. The moment when I finally said “That does it! I’m done! Your god can go F^%## himself!”
In February of this year, my brother went to the hospital because he was experiencing excruciating pain in his back. He had had back troubles in the past, and had even had back surgery, so we all thought he had injured himself again. Such was not the case, however, and 6 days after he was admitted to the hospital, he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. The cancer was in his lungs, his liver, his lymph nodes, his spine, and his bone marrow. He did not have long to live. Johnnie was only 54 years old. The family kept 24 hour vigil at his side to take care of him in the hospital and when he came home for hospice care. One person stayed with him each night, and as many as could be there visited daily. Johnnie was in excruciating pain, and heavily drugged as a result.
On March 9 2009 with his entire family around the bed with him, Johnnie took his last breath. We were devastated. We had told Johnnie that we would sing, and tell stories, and raise a glass or two to see him off, but it really didn’t work out that way. We all just cried a lot. Then my mother made that fateful comment. I know she meant well, but it struck a nerve with me, and I became hysterical. She said “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” To which I immediately replied “Bullshit!! He does it all day, every day all around the world!!” At this point all hell broke loose. I became more hysterical as the whole family yelled at me to shut up and basically not say anything bad about their god. I was escorted out of the room and my father actually threatened to throw me out of the house. My mother literally put her hands over her ears when I said I wanted that s.o.b. of a god to get the hell out of my life and leave me alone. I spent the next 45 minutes in another room crying hysterically with my daughter and niece comforting me after which I was told that I needed to apologize to the believers. This was unbelievable to me, and further convinced me that this god is an asshole.
After this defining moment, I began to wonder why I did all the research that I did. The bottom line is that there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of a god, and when approached from the top down in this way, rather than the bottom up sort of approach that I had previously employed, the issues become much simpler. In other words, I will now have to be presented with some sort of evidence of god at all, not proof mind you, evidence will suffice; and from there proceed to a discussion about which god, and which holy book he might use to reveal himself. This top down approach, which looks at all the different gods and holy books, reveals the absurdity of the idea in general, and the different religions specifically.
I now firmly believe that these delusional beliefs are a danger to our society. It is scary to have people in the highest positions in the land who base major world policies on what they think their imaginary god would have them do. This is particularly alarming given that there are other world leaders who claim to believe in the same god, who claim that this god is telling them to do something quite contrary to what our leaders think. This is surely a prescription for disaster. There have been wars fought all over the world for all of time because of this way of thinking. Of all the conflicts currently raging on our planet, the majority of them are based on religion. People actually believe in a god who wants them to kill everyone who disagrees with their idea of god. In the case of this country we do not actually think god wants us to kill those who do not believe as we do, but we do believe that god is on our side. What a preposterous idea! I liken it to several children playing in a sandbox, each claiming to be the fathers favorite, arguing over who gets the most sand, and insisting that daddy wants them to smack the other children.
Such a god is simply not possible.