50 Years of Life…

I have lived all of my adult life with mental illness. I’ve had bipolar disorder since I was a teenager, and I also live with borderline personality disorder. Though I tend to focus the most on the bipolar illness, both illnesses have caused me many problems over the course of my life.

My mental health issues actually started when I was 10 years old, but the trouble started the day I was born. I was born breech, which put my mother through hell, and it also caused brain damage that ultimately caused a very serious seizure when I was ten years old. Before that seizure happened, I was a normal, happy little guy. After the seizure, I was different. That seizure changed me and it brought my bipolar illness to the forefront. I wouldn’t have full-blown bipolar disorder until I reached my teenage years, but the course of my life was changed forever. What made things even worse is the medication I had to be on. The best anti-seizure medication available in 1976 was phenobarbital. I was on it for six years, and it caused me major behavioral problems. And, of course, that led to problems getting along with the other kids at school. Just like any school aged kid, I wanted to be liked and accepted by my peers. But unfortunately, I went about it in all the wrong ways. I was always trying to get attention because I felt so unsure of myself, but the things I did to get attention backfired. Instead of making me friends, my actions alienated me from others and I was soon one of the “weird kid” outcasts. That lasted throughout high school. I had very few friends and no romantic life at all. I had zero success with the girls, and I went through the entire four years of high school without going on a single date. The only things that made my high school years tolerable were friends like Doug who accepted me and liked me as I was and my involvement in the marching band. I played the tuba and had a lot of fun doing it. 🙂

High school was difficult, but I brought a lot of my troubles on myself. Yes, I mentally ill and we know that now, and we know that that was responsible for my behavioral issues. But at the time I was also obsessed with Star Trek. I think I must have been the world’s most die-hard Trekkie. I loved that show so much, and I wanted so badly for it to be real. I watched the show every time I could when it was on TV. I read Star Trek novels all the time. I daydreamed about being beamed up to a wonderful new life in the Star Trek universe. In my mind, the crew of the Enterprise were my best friends. I didn’t have a sense of belonging at school, but I fit right into the Star Trek universe. I was such a Trekkie that I frequently greeted my classmates with the Vulcan salute, which of course just helped to solidify my status as one of the “weird kid” outcasts. There is no question that Star Trek is one of the greatest science fiction franchises ever created, but for me it was an escape from the unpleasant reality of my high school life.

We all know how cruel kids can be. I put up with a lot of it getting through school. But there is one instance of cruelty that stands out in my memory that I will never forget. This happened over 30 years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was so unpopular at school that I was never invited to any of the beach parties or the gatherings at Dunbar Park or any of the other fun stuff that the cool kids got to do. So, when I got a phone call from a couple of girls inviting me to a party, I was thrilled. I got directions to where this awesome party supposedly was, and drove off to find it. I wasn’t able to, so after a while I gave up and went back home. The girls called again. My mother knew that they were not serious and that they were playing a very cruel joke on me. She tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t hear it. I drove off again to try to find this party, and my mom was left at home to hurt for me while I tried to find a nonexistent party. I finally gave up and it finally dawned on me that my mother was correct. I couldn’t believe that anyone could hate me so much or that anyone could be so cruel. It was a hard life lesson that I had to learn the hard way. There are people in this world who take joy in causing others pain, and that’s as true in the teenage world of high school as it is in the adult world we all live in now…

I was severely mentally ill by the time I graduated high school, but at the time we didn’t know it. I had serious substance abuse issues while I was in school. Drinking and smoking pot were the only ways I had to deal with the symptoms of the bipolar disorder I didn’t know I had at the time. There were many nights when I was so manic and so agitated that the only way I could sleep was to drink. I would either wait until my mother went to bed and then hit the liquor cabinet as quietly as I could, or I would sneak out of the house and drive to a couple of convenience stores nearby that I knew would sell me beer. I drank until my mind was calmed down enough that I could sleep. Other times I was so depressed that I cried myself to sleep. Sometimes my mother would hear, and she would do her best to comfort me. We didn’t know what was wrong with me at the time that was causing me so much pain. I didn’t know that the real reason I was in so much pain was that I was mentally ill. So I always managed to find some external reason for why I was crying myself to sleep. Usually that involved a fear of my mother’s death, though at the time she was in her early 40’s and she was healthy. She always assured me that if something did happen to her that she had lived a good life and that I would be okay.

After high school, my struggles continued. I went to the local community college, but because I was so ill and I had such serious substance abuse issues, I never did very well in my classes. But one class I did enjoy was Drama, though the truth is that I had basically zero acting talent. But Mr. Kinney found a small role for me to play in “Candide”, and I remember really enjoying it. I made several friends in that class, including Mike. He was a devout Christian, and he frequently tried to share his faith with me. I had been raised United Methodist and while I was in high school I had some good religious conversations with my Baptist neighbors, but by the time I was in college I had lost all interest in religion. I didn’t want to hear it. But Mike was persistent and he showed me a lot of kindness over the course of the months we were together in drama class, so he finally got me out to his car one day to read some Bible verses. As I was reading Hebrews 4:12, I felt something stir inside of me, and I thought “maybe there is something to this Jesus shit”. 🙂 I prayed to receive Jesus as my Savior in Mike’s car that day. Needless to say, he was thrilled, and not long after that I found myself in Brazoria attending a free showing of the “Jesus Film” that was being put on by the local Baptist church. I was 19 years old, and I didn’t realize at the time that my emotions were being skilfully manipulated by religious propaganda. By the time that movie was over, I was deeply moved, and I knew that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer. Even though I had prayed to receive Christ days before with Mike, I prayed again just to be sure. I wanted to KNOW that I was saved! 🙂 And so began my Christian religious journey, which lasted for 15 years. I threw myself into my new-found faith with all of the energy and enthusiasm that a 19-year old could muster. I quit drinking and I quit using drugs, and with Mike’s help and guidance I was rapidly transformed from a troubled teenage party animal into a very religious Christian fundamentalist. I was so dedicated to my new faith that I ditched the awesome 80’s Rock that was usually blasting from my stereo for much mellower religious music. I discovered Sandi Patti, Twila Paris, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and especially Keith Green. I loved Keith’s music, and I loved his total commitment to his faith. I wanted so badly to see him in concert, and when Mike informed me that Keith had died in a plane crash in 1982, I was devastated.

My mother arranged for me to go to East Texas Baptist University, and I arrived there for the Fall semester of 1985. I was so excited and I was so looking forward to attending school with fellow Christians. But as devout as my faith was at the time, I did have doubts that I was struggling with. When I went to this school, I was expecting a very religious, church-like atmosphere. What I found instead was a college full of average young people who happened to be nominally religious. I had a great time at that school. I made friends, and I enjoyed participating in the clown ministry and attending Christian concerts across the border in Louisiana. I saw many of the Christian stars of the time, including Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart. I loved their music, and after one of their concerts, I went backstage for prayer. While I was back there, I got to meet Mylon and shake his hand! I said something like, “That was fun!”, and he said, “Yeah, it was!” I got to meet one of my Christian Rock idols, briefly though it was, and it was awesome! 🙂

My initial experience at ETBU was good, but my grades were suffering, which I now know was because I was struggling so much with mental illness. I often look back at those days and wonder why I had such a hard time succeeding. All I had to do was make good grades! I had plenty of spending money coming from my father, and I didn’t have to work. All that was required of me was to make good grades, and I couldn’t even manage that. But it’s because I was so mentally ill at the time, though none of us knew it back then. By the time the Spring semester of 1986 came around, I was in trouble again. My bipolar illness had raised its ugly head, and I started drinking and using drugs again. And I was also smoking cigarettes. All of this at a Christian school! Needless to say, when the school authorities found out, they were not happy. I attended school through the first summer semester of 1986, but after that I found myself suspended for poor academic performance.

I came back home to Lake Jackson, and my mother arranged for me to get treatment for substance abuse at the Alpha Center, which was located at the hospital. It was an inpatient facility, and I was there for a while. I stayed for at least a month. I did well and when I was ready to come home, my mother was very grateful to them for “giving me my son back”. But thanks to the mental illness that hadn’t been diagnosed yet, I didn’t stay sober long. My friend Doug and I went to see Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which was in theaters at the time. It was my 21st birthday, and after the movie we got plastered drunk. 🙂

In 1987, I moved to Houston, and so began a lifetime of working low-wage, dead-end jobs and trying to survive. And so began 15 years of swinging between periods of devout religious belief when I was manic and periods of severe substance abuse when I was depressed. When I was depressed, I would come home after work and drink until I passed out. When I was manic and religious, I would come home after work and engage in prayer and worship, always pursuing the next religious high. Either way, I realize now, I was just trying to feel good. And something as basic as just feeling good, which so many people just take for granted, is so difficult for those of us who are mentally ill to achieve. We spend our lives fighting for what others just take for granted…

I have always wanted to be famous and I have always wanted to be popular. I know that I’m never going to experience fame the way Hollywood movie stars do, for example. But I spent years wishing that I could get my life together and be successful. When I was religious, I dreamed of being a famous evangelist or a famous worship leader. I loved Charismatic-style praise and worship music, and I wanted so badly to be a worship leader so that I too could record worship music for the Lord. I craved that fame and that recognition. I wanted to be a famous evangelist so that I could win many people to Christ and enjoy having others look up to me for that. When people like Jesse Duplantis visited our church, I wished to be just like him. I wanted to have a similar dynamic and miraculous faith in God, and I wanted to be just as talented and funny as he was. When I went to see Christian artists such as Michael W. Smith and Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart, I was wishing that it could be me up on that stage enjoying all of that fame and recognition. But it never was to be. I’m just me, and my life isn’t like theirs. While they enjoy success and the adoration of millions of fans, I am a totally unknown guy struggling with mental illness. I happen to have a good singing voice too. I’m just as capable of belting out Christian Rock music as Mylon or Michael. But I had to settle for singing solos at church.

By early 2000, doubts and questions about my faith had built up to the point that I could no longer ignore them or write them off as tricks of the devil. So, I got on the Net as it was back then and went looking for answers. I discovered sites such as www.infidels.org and www.rejectionofpascalswager.net. I spent hours daily reading and thinking and learning. I finally realized that the beliefs I had cherished for 15 years of my life actually had no basis in reality. And I realized that the Bible was deeply flawed in many ways, and that it was not and could not be the “Word of God”. Over a period of months, I lost my faith and I eventually lost my belief in God. I made the journey from devout Christian belief to atheism. And at the time I was extremely angry that I had devoted 15 years of my younger life to a pack of ancient religious myths and lies, and I was devastated to realize that God didn’t actually exist and that the Heaven I had so looked forward to for so many years was just an ancient myth.

In 2002, I chose to make the anger and the rage I was feeling public. I started religionisbullshit.com, and started putting my thoughts online. I believed that the truth about the Bible and the Christian religion needed to be told, and I was determined to do it. My friend Dave soon suggested that I turn my site into a blog. Those were new at the time, and soon after I did that I started enjoying success. Many of my posts back in those days were filled with anger and rage that I think was justified. But even so, I built a significant audience, and my site was active and lots of fun to do. I got so much email from Christians that my responses became a regular part of the content of the site. I loved hearing from Christians and I loved publicly responding to them. I was very good at it, and it was fun to watch my atheist/ex-Christian readers respond to what I had written. But, the way I did my site was not without issues. While I did use my site to vent my emotions, I also used it to belittle and ridicule Christians. I frequently characterized them as the dumbest people on Earth — slack-jawed, knuckle-dragging morons who didn’t possess two functioning brain cells to rub together. I was so angry that I was okay with doing that for a while, but eventually I started to feel really bad about it. I knew that the way I was portraying Christian believers on my site was not right, and I also knew that I was a better person than that. But, instead of choosing to change the way I was representing Christians, I chose to abandon my site altogether. In August of 2004, I shut down my very popular “Religion is Bullshit” website and tried to move on with my life. But it wasn’t long before I was missing it, so I decided to go back online with another similar site. I bought a new domain name and put another site online. I honestly expected to just pick up where I had left off, and I expected to have another large and responsive audience of readers within a short period of time. It didn’t take long for harsh reality to hit! My new site did not enjoy anything close to the popularity of my original site, and nothing I did to try to regain that popularity worked. I chose to remain online, but I was constantly frustrated with how dead the various sites I tried to do were, and I complained about it to anyone who would listen. I still have a site online at www.alaskanatheist.me, and if I may say so myself, I think it’s a great site. I’ve put up a lot of writing that I think is very good and very insightful. But… most of the time the crickets chirp. I simply cannot compete with the much better known atheist bloggers who are online now. So, though it’s 12 years in the past now and in terms of the Internet it is ancient history, I have to live with the fact that I destroyed the one thing I ever did that brought me some measure of fame and recognition. I had a very popular site, and a lot of people loved me respected me, and looked forward to whatever I was going to have to say next. I so wish now that I had just made some changes to my site so that it was something I could be proud of instead of taking the drastic step of taking it down and destroying it.

I have a friend named Kate who is a much more talented writer than I am. She is a fellow ex-Christian, and I have to admit that I envy the online success she is currently enjoying. She is a successful blogger, and she also co-hosts a skeptical podcast. In addition to that, she has authored some religion-based fiction that I think is very good. She and others seem to find success online so effortlessly. I have to wonder why it hasn’t ever happened again for me, despite my best efforts to put something of value out there…

I have considered giving YouTube a shot, but I suck at making videos, and for some reason the videos I have made in the past have never gotten very many views. I think I pissed YouTube off some years ago, and I think they are purposefully suppressing my videos. I have no proof of that at all, but I think it makes sense…

I have been on Facebook since 2009, but I am giving some thought to leaving it behind for a while. The only thing keeping me there now is the fact that it is the only way I have to stay in touch with many people that I really care about. But I do have major frustrations there. Almost everything I post either gets only a few “likes” or comments, or most often, it gets totally ignored. This is true regardless of what I post. Nobody enjoys being ignored, so I’m thinking of moving on to other sites where my thoughts are more welcomed and appreciated. I also find it very frustrating that my Christian friends refuse to engage with me on the subject of religion. It’s true that I used to post angry rants and I have no doubt that I alienated many of my religious friends doing that, but these days I’m much more interested in productive conversations. But it doesn’t matter how nice I am, my posts on religion routinely get ignored, and I’ve grown very tired of that. It is so frustrating to feel so passionate about something and to have your efforts to communicate and discuss go totally ignored!

Well, I suppose this post is getting long enough. 🙂 I’m sure some of my views and my frustrations and my wishes for fame and recognition reflect the mental health issues I struggle with every day. Nothing I can do about that. But I do hope that this post has given you some insight into my life and some understanding of what I have gone through in the past and what I am going through now here in the present. It’s true that I do crave some measure of fame and recognition, but even more important than that is the fact that I always have and I always will want to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to leave this world a better place than I found it. Thanks for reading all of this and thanks for your friendship. 🙂

My Thoughts on Primary Foods

I am currently going to school at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, studying to be a Health Coach. IIN promotes the concept of Primary Foods — relationships, career, physical activity, and spirituality. As you can see in this graphic, primary foods are just as important as what we eat (secondary food), if not more so. You could eat broccoli all day, but if your primary foods are not in order then you will not be healthy or happy!

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My relationship with my family is great. I get along well with my parents and my sister. I talk to my mother on the phone nearly every day. My sister and I don’t get a lot of time together even to talk on the phone, but we are planning another trip to Europe together in a few years, and I am very excited about that. The last trip we took around Europe was in 1984. It was my high school graduation present and my sister got to come along. We had a great time back then, but it will be fun again in a few years too. Fun, but different. We are a lot older now than we were back in 1984, and the world is a very different place.

Because of my life circumstances, I have never been in a romantic relationship. In fact, I have never even been out on a date, and I am 48 years old. I was unpopular in school because I had behavioral problems due to then undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and we all know how cruel kids can be. I was one of the “weird kid” outcasts in high school, so my romantic options were pretty much nonexistent. But, I was fine with not having that as a part of my life back then. I was a late bloomer anyway, and I was happy being active in the band (I played the tuba) and with being obsessed with Star Trek. I still love the show now, but I don’t go around greeting people with the Vulcan salute, ha ha… I have struggled with mental illness and with being able to financially support myself all of my adult life, so the past 30 years have not lent themselves well to being in a serious relationship. I hope it will happen for me someday, but if I am single for the rest of my life and I never get to experience a romantic relationship, I am okay with that. It’s been the story of my life so far anyway, so I am comfortable with it.

My career path now is working hard to become a successful health coach. But in the past, my employment record has reflected a lifetime spent struggling with mental illness. I have worked many low-paying, dead-end jobs over the years, and the last ten years I have not worked at all. There have only been two times in my life when I was self-sufficient financially. I worked at Dell for a year and four months (1996-1998). That was a great job and I was looking forward to having a career at Dell, but unfortunately bipolar disorder reared its ugly head and I ended up in the hospital and I lost my job. But… it was at that time that I was properly diagnosed at the age of 32. After the job at Dell, I had a job in Amarillo, TX for a few months working as a printer repair technician. But… I hardly had to work at that job! I had to call in every day to see if there was work or not, but most days I was free. Needless to say, that job didn’t last long. I am still surprised when I think about it today that that job lasted six months. I was semi-retired, making $16/hr for doing basically nothing. The company I was working for is no longer in business, but they couldn’t keep that up forever!

I am usually very physically active, but that wasn’t always the case. There was a time in my life a few years ago that I was so overweight and out of shape that I could barely climb the stairs in our house. Back in late 2011, I was introduced to the Beachbody company and their DVD workout programs, and since then my physical health has improved dramatically. I started with Power 90 and then progressed to doing P90X. Since then, I have done Insanity, Body Beast, and Les Mills Combat. But…I have had a few setbacks and I am now about 30 pounds heavier than I was summer of 2012. I’m also totally burned out right now on doing DVD workout programs. I am having a really hard time sticking to any program. Summer is almost here though, and the ice and snow have melted enough that I can get back on my bike. I’m planning to ride it around the neighborhood and around town as much as is reasonably possible to get some good exercise. I will be walking the trails in town frequently too. Biking and walking may not be as intense as the DVD workout programs, but they are fun and I can see myself sticking with them better right now.

Spirituality…wow, that’s a tough one for me! I currently lack any religious or spiritual beliefs, and I am very happy that way. After 15 years of fundamentalist Christianity and a year or so of seriously dabbling in Hindu beliefs and meditation techniques, I am completely and gloriously free of religion! I plan on staying that way too. I went through a lot of emotional trauma and pain after discovering that my strongly held Christian beliefs were not true and after realizing that the Bible is mostly anonymously-written ancient mythology (long stories!), but my deconversion process is complete now and I am very happy now that I am free and I can see the world as it really is! My spiritual practice now is just being the best ME that I can be – being the kindest, loving, and compassionate and understanding ME that I can be. When the subject inevitably comes up with my clients, I plan to work to see them free as well, but of course at a pace that is comfortable for them. If religion is working well for them, there may not be a reason to change that, necessarily. But if limiting religious beliefs or doctrines are holding a client back, then that should probably be addressed, and I know how to do that effectively and with compassion and patience. Being free of religion is wonderful and amazing, and everyone should have that option available to them!

So…that’s my story, my life experience, and my 2 cents…

Murdered Children Not with Jesus

jesuschildrenI saw this image posted on Facebook yesterday, and it really pissed me off because it is a complete fantasy and a gross misrepresentation of reality. The brutal truth of the matter is that the children who were murdered the other day in Connecticut are not floating in the clouds with Jesus. They are not in a “better place” living happily ever after. The brutal reality is that they are DEAD. WIPED OUT. GONE. They no longer exist, and there is nothing that can change the finality of their deaths, no matter how much we wish it could be different.

 

Christopher Hitchens famously commented that “religion poisons everything”, and he was correct. Fantasies such as that depicted in this image are just that — fantasies. It may be comfortable to believe that the young, innocent lives that were tragically cut short are continuing in another realm, but that just simply is not the case. I understand the need to find some source of comfort and hope when unspeakable tragedies such as this occur, but those sources of comfort should be solidly based in reality. Escaping into religious fantasy is not a healthy way to deal with shock or grief, and it is not helpful in the long run. Carl Sagan once said that it is far better to grasp the universe as it is than to persist in delusion, no matter how satisfying.

Facing the fact that those young lives were snuffed out beyond any hope of recovery is hard. It is brutal. It is unspeakably, tragically, indescribably sad. But it is reality, and it cannot be changed. It is far better to face that brutal reality head on than it is to escape from it into a religious fantasy world.

My heart goes out to the families and everyone else affected by this horrific tragedy. If I was able to say anything to offer comfort, it would be showing that I care and would do anything within my power to ease their suffering. That’s all any of us can do and I’m thankful that those who are qualified and are in a position to help are doing so.

What Makes People Think There is a God?

What makes people think there is a God? My nonreligious father asked me that question a while back, and it has stuck with me. As a former fundamentalist Christian, I have a very religious past, and most of my relatives (whom I now generally have little contact with) are very religious. What made me believe? Well… it was a combination of things and a single reason would be hard to pin down. My mother is not religious but she believes in God. I had some interesting conversations about God and the Bible with religious neighbors when I was a teenager. I guess until my deconversion from Christianity in early 2000 I never really doubted the existence of God. And when I converted to Christianity in 1985 it was in large part because after reading Hebrews 4:12 out in my friend Mike’s car, I felt something come alive inside of me. Mike had been “witnessing” to me, telling me about Jesus, and I my attitude had shifted from “Get away from me with that Jesus shit” to thinking maybe there was something to this Jesus thing. That feeling I got in the car after reading that verse was important in my conversion, but so was seeing the “Jesus Film” shortly thereafter at a local Baptist church. I knew after I saw that film that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer, and even now as I write this the memory of that exciting time in my life softens my heart a bit yet again.

But what made me believe in God? And what made me believe specifically in the Christian God? I think because of my upbringing the default position for me was belief. I was raised United Methodist until I was ten years old. I asked then to stop going to church because I didn’t believe what they were teaching, but yet I returned in my early teens to go through the Confirmation process.

Most people in this nation believe in God. For them, the default position is belief because of their upbringing, whether they were raised in a religious home or not. The reason most people believe in the Christian God in the US is simply a matter of geography. Christianity is the dominant religion in this country and so most people believe in its god. There is, however, no evidence at all that the tribal war god of the ancient Jews actually exists, nor is there much evidence that Jesus ever actually lived if you really look into it. I am not one who claims that Jesus never lives as those folks are generally on the lunatic fringe of atheism, but their writings do provide a lot of food for thought.

They way from religious belief to atheism is one full of questions. Bit by bit you chip away at the religious teachings you once held as sacred and as each card in the proverbial house of cards falls down, the entire belief system eventually falls away. For me and for many of us who identify as ex-Christians, that is an intensely emotional time, and working through the emotional trauma of religious brainwashing and indoctrination that we realize we have been subjected to can take many years to resolve.

One big clue for me that God does not exist is the fact that he never thinks, says, or does anything at all except in the minds of believers. NEVER! And he never answers prayers or heals amputees. As comfortable as it is to believe in God, the fact is that he is imaginary!

One of my greatest fears in letting go of God was that life would lose its meaning and purpose. And for a while that was true. I had a hard time coming to grips with the reality of there being no god and no afterlife. Now I see it as tremendously freeing! We are here as a result of billions of years of biological evolution, not as the result of a magical act of a god that occurred just thousands of years ago. When we realize that this life is IT, then life becomes incredibly precious. Every moment must be lived. Savored. Enjoyed to the utmost! Every moment brings us closer to the end of our existence, but that is not reason to despair. It is reason to grab life by the horns and live it to the fullest! Let go of fear and LIVE! You will never get another chance to do it! Life is fabulous. Wonderful. Enthralling. Exciting. Magnificent. AWESOME!

Why do people believe in God? I recently watched a fascinating video on that subject. It is rare that I devote an hour of my time to watching a video on YouTube, but in this instance I am very glad that I did. Andy Thompson of American Atheists does an excellent job of laying out the scientific basis for why we believe in gods.

It is actually not too big of a step to go from believing in the natural to believing in the supernatural because of how our brains work and systems already at work in our minds.

I posted this on Facebook for my friend and high school band director and I think it sums up my thoughts on God well:

My journey from devout religious belief to atheism has been a long and interesting one. I spent 15 years as a very devout fundamentalist Christian. I was the type who annoyed everybody. I wrote evangelistic letters to my family. I tried to convert my friends and co-workers. I handed out those ridiculous Chick tracts to convenience store clerks and toll booth operators. I was at church every time the doors opened, including early morning prayer meetings. I forced my beliefs on everybody all the time and though I meant well, I made a huge nuisance of myself. Despite all of that religious activity and belief, I still had questions that that seemed to have no good answers from my pastors or from the Christian apologists I read. Those questions finally built up to the point where I could no longer ignore them or write them off as coming from the devil.

In early 2000, I got on the Net as it existed back then and started researching my faith on both sides of the fence. I was absolutely stunned to find that the religious skeptics had far better answers than I had encountered from Christian apologists and I was also very surprised to see how easily they ripped my once cherished beliefs to shreds, not through ridicule but with facts. I started reading the skeptical side at www.infidels.org and went from there.

After I got over the shock of having my Christian worldview ripped out from under me, I became very very ANGRY! The fact that I was also very mentally ill at the time with not well controlled bipolar disorder didn’t help matters any. I felt foolish, used, and betrayed when I realized I had been intentionally lied to for 15 years and I had bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

What followed next was a swing to the other side of the religious spectrum and several years of outspoken atheism. I maintained a strongly anti-Christian website that had a few different incarnations and I regularly ridiculed the beliefs that I had once held sacred. It was not a happy time in my life, but it was a necessary part for me of processing an excruciatingly painful experience.

I have experimented with several different belief systems over the years since I left the Christian faith. Atheism still makes the most rational sense to me, but right now I would say I am agnostic. I DON’T KNOW if a god of any kind exists, but I strongly doubt it. There’s just no good evidence that he/she/it does. And the fact that God never thinks, says, or does anything at all except in the minds of believers speaks volumes to me.

I have found spiritual beliefs that have some meaning to me. I happen to really appreciate the wisdom that comes out of Hinduism and Buddhism. I can find good in all religions, but I don’t for a moment believe that any of them have a divine origin.

I am not at a place right now where I feel comfortable embracing belief. I sacrificed my brain at the altar of religion once when I was young and got hurt badly, and I will not ever make that mistake again.

Thoughts I Need to Express

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about positive changes I need to make to my life, which of course includes my thought patterns and the way I choose to respond to life events.

I have been harboring a tremendous amount of (completely justified) anger, bitterness, and hatred toward Christianity for about ten years now, ever since I came to the realization that I had been intentionally lied to, brainwashed, indoctrinated and deceived for 15 years of my life by an evil cult that doesn’t deserve even the slightest bit of respect. There is a part of me that would love to wipe the evil, destructive scourge of Christianity off the face of the earth and erase 2000-years worth of bloodshed, religion-sanctioned ignorance, and severely stunted social and scientific progress, if I had the power to do so.

The fundamentalist Christian cult destroyed my life. They claimed to have “God’s Truth” for everybody for all time handed down from God in a divinely inspired, infallible and inerrant book. Instead, what they offered me was a severely flawed myth-error-atrocity -absurdity-bad “history”-ridden “holy” book, a pack of ancient myths and lies, false and severely psychologically damaging doctrines, and many false promises. They seem to have originated the “bait and switch” tactic that shady salespeople are known to use frequently. They got it straight from the Church!

Christians talk a lot about love but rarely show it. I heard about love in church – about how much God allegedly loved me and what Jesus had supposedly done for me. This “love” comes packaged with an immense amount of psychologically damaging guilt, shame and fear designed to lock the unfortunate victim of this mental and emotional abuse into the cult belief system for life.

How do Christian cultists define “love”? “God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.” The absurdity of that doctrine aside for the moment, how exactly does that equal “love”?

Christianity can be humorously (but accurately) defined as shown in this graphic:

Much of the world has been enslaved to this absurd belief system for 2000 years. Much of the rest of the world has been and still is enslaved to the equally (at least) absurd, evil, and damaging religious nonsense known as Islam.

I spent 15 years of my life believing that I was a sinful, depraved, essentially evil (without Jesus) worthless being who had no chance of being “good enough” for God (without Jesus). I spent those years fearing hell and fearing angering God and a tremendous amount of time feeling religious guilt and shame that I now realize was needless and without any basis in reality. I also spent those years fearing that my “unsaved” family and friends would be going to hell to burn and be tortured forever.

To say that Christianity is a very dangerous and damaging belief system would be stating the case very mildly! It is a clear and present danger to anyone who has the misfortune of getting sucked into it. Instead of enjoying its completely undeserved status as a socially acceptable belief system and instead of being allowed to trot out its pack of dangerous and damaging myths and lies and false promises on a weekly (at a minimum) basis, the fundamentalist Christian church should be revealed publicly as the dangerous cult that it is and condemned by the mental health community as strongly as is possible. There should be strong warnings against the doctrines and teachings of this evil cult not only on the Internet, but in every conceivable media outlet. The proper authorities would do no less in the case of a tainted food, water or disease outbreak and psychologically damaging, dangerous belief systems should get no less. In no way should they be given any special protection nor should they be allowed to freely prey on the unsuspecting public.

I live every day with the damage done to me by the fundamentalist Christian cult even though I walked away from it eleven years ago. The damage done was severe and it has been lasting.

Knowing intellectually that Christianity has no basis in reality and that the same goes for the fear, guilt, and shame that I was subjected to for so many years is of course a good and valuable thing, but it doesn’t address the psychological damage done or the strong negative emotional baggage I have been left with which I have been unable to resolve.

I know intellectually that I am and always have been a good, caring, loving, giving, and compassionate person. But the emotional baggage and toxic teachings I still carry from my days in the Christian cult tells me that I am a sinful, bad, essentially depraved and evil person who was born deserving to burn in hell forever – that my righteous and good acts are as filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

With this kind of belief drilled into me for years, how can I be expected to honestly feel good about myself? How can I possibly really love myself and see myself as worthy of love with this kind of toxic garbage still infecting my thought processes and my sense of self-worth? How can I possibly have a healthy sense of self-esteem having believed this of myself for so long? I am fully aware now intellectually that “sin” is a religious concept with no basis in reality but after so many years of fearing and hating my supposed sinfulness and asking God often to forgive sins both of commission and omission and so often feeling judged and condemned and not forgiven and disregarded or forgotten by God, how do I overcome those toxic beliefs and find healing? How do I go from the “sin consciousness” that was drilled into me by the Christian cult to accepting and loving myself as I am – a flawed and imperfect but basically good and loving human being? Hmmm… I am indeed imperfect as everybody is, but am I really “flawed”? Such is the pervasiveness of toxic teachings, even after years away from the church.

I was taught that “God is Love” in church, but the reality is that most of the Bible portrays God as anything but “loving”. I hear Christians claim all the time that “God is good” and I wonder, “Have they ever actually read the book they claim to revere as God’s Word?” The obvious answer is “NO”. In the Old Testament, God is portrayed as repeatedly either ordering or directly committing mass murder. Genocide was perfectly acceptable if God ordered it or committed it himself. It was perfectly acceptable to beat the hell out of your slaves as long as you didn’t kill them. It was perfectly acceptable to murder homosexuals. God killed a man because he dared to pick up some sticks, which absurdly counted as “work” on the Sabbath. God sent bears to slaughter children who made fun of one of his prophets. According to Psalm 137:9, happiness is bashing the heads of infants against rocks. The New Testament doesn’t get much better. The morally reprehensible doctrine of an eternal hell is introduced as is the notion that it is perfectly acceptable to kill people if they lie to you (see Acts 5). The book of Revelation is a religious lunatic’s fantasy, but it portrays the slaughter of billions (if the events depicted were to occur in modern times) by an allegedly “loving” God and then of course after being murdered in horrible ways they get the extremely dubious honor of getting to spend an eternity in God’s BBQ pit. Praise the Lord!

I actually saw one of my Christian friends (whom I respect as a friend very much) assert on Facebook the idea that if criminals had been given the opportunity to read the Bible when they were children then perhaps they wouldn’t be in prison now. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! Most of the Bible is most definitely NOT appropriate reading material for children! Unless you want them to grow up to be criminals, that is… after all, according to the Bible mass murder, killing infants, murdering homosexuals and stoning disobedient children to death, among other equally immoral acts, are all perfectly acceptable things to do.

I’ve also recently seen the assertion made that America is in the condition it’s in because we have “forgotten God”. And that if we followed “God’s laws” we wouldn’t have the problems we are facing now. What a load of utter nonsense. I guess if we just “remembered” God and apologized for pissing him off, everything would just magically be okay. And especially if we figured out which set of God’s contradictory “laws” we should follow! *rolls eyes*

God is Love? God is good? NOT ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE!

I happen to like and agree with much of what the Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism teach. Buddhists generally lack a belief in a god, but Hindus of course have many though they are generally believed to be the personal aspects of Brahman, the impersonal Ultimate Reality. Christians will readily condemn the Eastern religions as being “false” and “demonic” while they think nothing of the fact that they likely understand little or nothing about what they are condemning while they simultaneously fail to consider the fact that what information they do have is likely inaccurate distortions of what Hindus and Buddhists actually believe gleaned from the writings of willfully ignorant, heavily biased Christian apologists.

I learned very well how to hate, judge and condemn others courtesy of the fundamentalist Christian cult. I learned the joy of anticipating God’s judgment on groups of people I was taught to hate. I was taught to view the alleged coming judgment of people I was led to believe “hated God” as a good thing, as “righteous and just”. It sickens me now to think that I ever could have thought that way or held such beliefs. Nothing matches the power of religion to warp the moral compasses of those who believe in it almost beyond recognition. Evil becomes good and good becomes evil.

I would love to be able to wholeheartedly believe that a loving God truly exists and I would love to be busy finding joy in serving others in any way I possibly can. That’s where my heart is and that’s what I know will bring me true happiness.

But before I can truly live that life – the one I know I am meant to live — and embrace those beliefs I have to find a way to resolve these long-standing negative feelings and toxic beliefs. I will never know the happiness and the peace that I know should be available to me if I can’t find a way to get out from under all of this toxic emotional baggage I have been carrying around for years.

I have information and tools available to me – such as Eknath Easwaran’s excellent 8-Point Program – but to fully take advantage of the positive beliefs and spiritual teachings I have become aware of, I have to get out from under the toxic and negative anger, bitterness, hatred and rage that Christianity brought into my life. I have carried them with me and have been weighed down by them for far too long.

I want to see the positive changes that I want so badly to become a reality in my life and embracing positive spirituality and getting free of the baggage the fundamentalist Christian cult left me burdened with is going to be a huge part of it, but there is a lot of work to be done.

The closing verses of Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita summarize beautifully the person I would love to become. I am far from it right now, but that kind of change and that level of spiritual growth is my goal.

Arjuna:

Tell me of the man who lives in wisdom,
Ever aware of the Self, O Krishna;
How does he talk, how sit, how move about?

Sri Krishna:

He lives in wisdom
Who sees himself in all and all in him,
Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed
Every selfish desire and sense-craving
Tormenting the heart. Not agitated
By grief nor hankering after pleasure,
He lives free from lust and fear and anger
Fettered no more by selfish attachments,
He is not elated by good fortune
Nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer.

Even as a tortoise draws in its limbs
The sage can draw in his senses at will.
An aspirant abstains from sense-pleasures,
But he still craves for them. These cravings all
Disappear when he sees the Lord of Love.
For even of one who treads the path
The stormy senses can sweep off the mind.
But he lives in wisdom who subdues them,
And keeps his mind ever absorbed in me.

When you keep thinking about sense-objects,
Attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire,
The lust of possession which, when thwarted,
Burns to anger. Anger clouds the judgment
And robs you of the power to learn from past mistakes
Lost is the discriminative faculty,
And your life is utter waste.

But when you move amidst the world of sense
From both attachment and aversion freed,
There comes the peace in which all sorrows end,
And you live in the wisdom of the Self.

The disunited mind is far from wise;
How can it meditate? How be at peace?
When you know no peace, how can you know joy?
When you let your mind follow the Siren call
Of the senses, they carry away
Your better judgment as a cyclone drives a boat
Off the charted course to its doom.

Use your mighty arms to free the senses
From attachment and aversion alike,
And live in the full wisdom of the Self.
Such a sage awakes to light in the night
Of all creatures. Wherein they are awake
Is the night of ignorance to the sage.

As the rivers flow into the ocean
But cannot make the vast ocean o’erflow,
So flow the magic streams of the sense-world
Into the sea of peace that is the sage.

He is forever free who has broken out
Of the ego-cage of I and mine
To be united with the Lord of Love.
This is the supreme state. Attain thou this
And pass from death to immortality.

Eknath Easwaran’s 8-Point Program:

  1. Meditation on a Passage
  2. Repetition of a Mantram
  3. Slowing down
  4. One-Pointed Attention
  5. Training the Senses
  6. Putting others first
  7. Spiritual fellowship
  8. Spiritual reading

The person I hope to become, though it may take a lifetime of work, is far better than the person I was as a Christian. I would much rather learn how to love myself and every other living thing fully and without reservation than to stay angry at the Christian cult and never come close to reaching my full potential as a human being. That is my goal.