Before I get into this, I want to note that this is not intended to offend anyone, but merely outline my thoughts, observations, and experiences on this subject. Religion is a hot button topic and tends to get some folks upset regardless of how well meaning one may be.
It's now been a year since I decided to quit attending the Baptist church I had been at for 13 years.
Growing up I was raised Roman Catholic and went to church with my mother every Sunday, or sometimes Saturday evening. By the time I was 19, I had joined the US Marines and initially went to Mass during Boot Camp and maybe once or twice after joining the Fleet Marine Force. Otherwise the duration of my 4 years of enlistment I did not practice my Catholicism. Once I returned to civilian life, I didn't have any intention of going back to practicing although I still considered myself Catholic.
Right about the same time I came back home, my old friends, and new one, started coming at me with religion and how I need to be 'saved'. At first, I didn't really know what they were going on about and I let them talk to me about it a little, but I had no interest in it. Over the course of that summer and visiting with my friends, and their dear grandparents whom I love as my own, I kept hearing more about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the awful place called Hell, that no one wants to go to because its supposed to be a place of eternal torment.
A few months of having my emotional heart strings tugged on and a healthy fear of Hell being impressed upon me and I made an honest to goodness profession of faith that Jesus was going to be my savior and keep me from Hell. I meant every word of it in my heart of hearts.
Now I was going to a Baptist church. Independent, and fundamental, King James Bible believing Baptist church.
To be clear right out of the gate here, this isn't the same as those people from the Westboro Baptist church. Those people are crazy and not at all what a Christian is meant to be, according to the bible. At no time have I, or ever will protest at a war veteran's funeral. I'm a veteran myself and if those people came to my town, I'd stand with the families and the bikers and my fellow veterans. The Baptist church I went to also deplored those people and would never do anything like them. I just wanted to get that out of the way since some people might mistake those people with the real Baptist church people.
At first, I went to a local church near me, and it was very small with only about a dozen or so people who regularly attended. The building was in rough shape and easily more than 150 years old. It was cold and drafty in the winter and humid and musty in the summer. The pastor at the time was fresh out of bible college and had only been saved a handful of years at that point and brought his wife and kids along for the ride too.
He wasn't the best people person and was quite abrasive with his interpersonal skills when discussing certain things, usually regarding religion when questioned about something. He had a good amount of pride in his new education and disliked anyone showing him something he didn't know or disagreed with.
His weekly sermons were usually about the same thing and were basically cookie-cutter templates from bible college with small variations to them. To be a preacher, public speaking is a must have skill in order to capture and keep an audience. Having new and exciting material is also key. I can't blame him though, he likely never had public speaking courses in school, and, more to the point, he was a new guy just getting started. He lacked experience and it showed, but, we all have to start somewhere and I don’t' fault him for it.
Be that as it may, it didn't really help me learn anything or want to keep in the faith.
Now, faith, according to the bible is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen - Hebrews 11:1. Essentially it means believing in something that you cannot observe with your senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, or hearing. This can be interpreted in many ways depending on the context. We can have faith in something and it not be true, or it can neither be confirmed, nor denied with evidence. It's just believing regardless of the presence, or absence, of facts proving the belief one way or another.
I mainly went to church because my buddies did, and I succumbed to peer pressure. That lasted about a year I think before I stopped attending the 3 services a week. Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I slowly started skipping the Wednesday's and then Sunday nights. It wasn't long before I just stopped going. But only a month had passed before my buddies came by one day to tell me about a different church they found where there were a lot more people, a better building, and what was quite important to them, girls!
They were having an annual meeting where pastors and preachers from all over the country come in and preach all week long, mornings, and evenings. I went with them to an evening service on a Thursday or a Friday; it was the end of the the week regardless. There were a lot people there, and there were some females there in attendance too!
I admit I didn't really understand a lot of what was said during those 2 or 3 hours from the pulpit, but the crowd sure seemed to love it, and a bunch of people went down to the alter to pray at the end of the service.
Some time after that service my buddies came by to visit again and they had learned that several of the girls there were the pastors daughters. One of my buddies already had it figured it out and took it upon himself to dole out which of us was going to date and marry these girls. Sounds like a winning plan from the start doesn't it? Being skeptical myself, and reserved of judgment, I just said oh okay, sure. They implored me to start going to this other church with them. So I did. There were girls there of course, right?
We started going to this church, nearly 40 miles away from where I was living at the time. We carpooled every time to save on fuel, but I ended up driving most of the time because I had a big 4-door truck that fit all 4 of us comfortably. Once in a great while they'd toss me some gas money which I appreciated, but never asked for.
The pastor was far more experienced and knowledgeable than the pastor at the other church. He was a practical preacher, preaching about daily Christian living. He was a former member of a biker gang in Detroit who knows his share of life on the streets too. He now has 10 children, 5 boys and 5 girls and lives a wonderful, caring life as the pastor of his church.
This was a guy I could learn from. He'd been there and done that and knows what he is talking about. I decided to continue attending all of the services and meetings the church held. Within about a year I was a member of the church, which meant I adhered to its beliefs about the King James Bible and it meant I had voting rights whenever something came to a vote. About the only thing I ever saw come up was to vote was on new members once in a while.
I learned an awful lot about Christianity and the bible from him and some of the others at the church through the years and even read the entire bible through a couple of times. Some people read it through once a year, or more, but I never could do it. I've read all of it, but not from beginning to end annually. Some of it is really dry reading.
I was excited to be learning something new and interesting and I learned so much, so quickly, that it caused my father to kick me out of his house for insulting Catholicism! We had a late night discussion at home about religion and what I was now doing and I, being young in age, and inexperienced with Christianity, more, or less, told him how the Catholic Church was from the Devil - according to the Baptists, and the bible of course. The next day he told me I had to find another place to stay. I had only been living there for about a year after I left the Marine Corps.
I went out and got an apartment in town that day and started moving my stuff. I didn't have a whole lot, so the move was pretty easy.
A couple of days later he calmed down and said I didn't have to go, that I could stay. I apologized for the offense, but said I already paid for the place and I'm going to be there now. It was time anyway to move out of my parents place, I was 22 years old!
We attended that church for a good number of years and over the course of the early years, two of my buddies dated, or tried to date, albeit briefly, some of the pastors daughters. It didn't work out well for them and I think a lot of it had to do with their character, and personality traits - the ladies just weren't digging their style I suppose.
I never dated any of them, though I did ask one of them out years later and was turned down. When it comes to females, I am not an alpha male. I'm the shy type who doesn't bulldoze my way through my friends to get to a girl.
These days, I'm still single and am very happy and content to be so. I did date a paramedic for a little while whom I met through work, but in the end it didn't work out.
My interest in technology guided me toward helping the church out with their sound room. Eventually, I was assigned to the room permanently and took care of all the microphones, sound mixers, recordings, and so on. I modernized it by bringing in an iMac and switching from cassette tapes to mp3s and building a website where people could download the sermons.
Time went on, I continued to attend all the time, so did my friends. My friends all fell on hard times financially or were looking for something else to do. They all ended up joining the military. Two of them to the Navy, the other to the Air Force. None had the balls, like me, to go to the Marines!
Now all my friends from high school were gone and I was the only one left. Of course, the members of the church were my friends too, but they were either much older or younger than me. Except for the pastors kids, both girls and boys. But they weren't all there either. Some were away at college or lived in other states, and one was an officer in the Marines - a real good guy too.
It was more or less just me for the next 4 years while they were away. Things went on rather uneventfully and as expected.
When the time came, the two who went to the Navy got out, one stayed in Virginia and the other came back to Michigan. The one that came back home introduced me to a friend of his from the Navy, who would be getting out about a year or so later than him. He was a real great guy too, personable and smart. When he got out, he started attending the same church as us since he lived in the area and I had some friends again to hang around with.
It wasn't too long until my high school buddy started going through ups and downs with his Christianity and he ended up leaving the church. I still had contact with him as we live near each other, but I didn't see him nearly as often. But our mutual friend still came to church and I got to hang around him for fellowship.
He started going to college on the GI Bill and from school, he found a few girls to date here and there. After a while, but not too long, he found a good one and they ended up getting married. Today they have two kids and a nice house together.
Once he started a family, had a full time job and was going to school, I didn't see a lot of him, though they still came to church when schedules allowed. That tends to happen to single people whose friends "grow up" I guess.
As I mentioned in the beginning here, I had gotten 'saved', truly and sincerely, based on the premise of not wanting to go to Hell. I didn't want to burn and be in torment for an eternity. I mean, before that, I believed in God just as much as the next person. He was the old, white-haired, guy upstairs, and as long as I didn't murder anyone or rob a bank in my lifetime, I'd make it to Heaven because I was a good person, right?
Well, not so fast, says the bible. Without quoting verses, I'll paraphrase the bible where necessary. It says that no one gets to Heaven unless they accept Jesus as their personal savior and it has to be a conscious decision made by each person. If you don't make this decision, no matter how good you were in life, you still are a sinner. You probably told a white lie one time in your life, or stole a cookie that wasn't yours in the lunch room and you've ruined your eternal life. Now you don't qualify for Heaven, and instead, you're destined to Hell and a lake of fire - which, as the bible points out, was created for the devil and his angels. At this point, you need a sinless sacrifice to atone for your sins in order to gain entry into Heaven, and Jesus, the son of God is that sacrifice. He died so that we might be saved. But in order for his atonement to work for you, you must believe that he was the son of God.
Since Hell and the lake of fire were supposedly created for the devil and his angels, a third of whom rebelled against God and were thrown out of Heaven, why were humans also destined to end up there if they didn't believe in Jesus?
According to the bible, this goes back to the Garden of Eden where the serpent, aka the devil, beguiled Eve and subsequently Adam, into eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which then caused them to become as gods themselves - knowing the difference between right and wrong and capable of both. At this point, God booted them out of the garden and instead of being sinless, perfect humans, they became sinful, imperfect humans. These humans had to atone for their sins, by a blood sacrifice to appease God and gain forgiveness for their sins - no matter how small.
Fast-forward about 4,000 years, according to the bible, and we now have Jesus whom God picked before birth to be the final atonement for mankind. Mary conceived the child without the help of a man, and was overshadowed by God instead. This child was to have sinless blood which could wash away the sins of the world. Once he was crucified and the blood shed, the annual atonement was no longer needed. People just had to believe that Jesus was the son of God and that was all they had to do to be redeemed into Heaven.
If you don't believe he is the son of God, then to Hell and then the lake of fire you will go when you die; and therein lies the salvation clause.
After a while, more like years, a few thoughts kept coming back up that I had very early on in this Christianity thing. I've always just suppressed them due to having the faith of a Christian. Yet, they persisted and I started dwelling on them, and more importantly, freeing my mind to actually consider them.
The bible likes to equate God as our spiritual father, our father in Heaven. He treats us just like our real, physical dad would - or should. He loves us, and cares for us and doesn't want anything bad to happen to us.
The problem I have here is one of actual caring and love with regards to eternal damnation. If God is really like that, why would he send people to this terrible place for not believing Jesus was the son of God? That doesn't seem very loving at all. I think any sane human father who offered their son a gift is still going to love them regardless if he accepts it or not. If the gift is there to save their life, the father would do anything they can to get them to accept it and keep on living. He wouldn't just sit quietly, and invisibly by, and watch his son die knowing that he could have done something about it.
Through the billions and billions of humans who've ever lived, considering the Christian way, how many billions of people didn't make it to Heaven? So many other peoples believe in Gods that aren't the Christian God, or don't believe at all. I am finding it very difficult to really believe that an all powerful figure would allow that to happen to a creation he created and loved.
Consider for a moment the people of North Korea today. The dictatorship regime over there, since the end of World War II, has the people so secluded and delusional to believe that the "Dear Leader" is God. These people are born and raised knowing nothing else whatsoever. They cry, bleed, work and die for him. Christianity is forbidden over there, along with all other religions I presume, so how can they know the Christian God to believe on him?
The bible says the law of God is written on everyone's heart and that they will be judged accordingly. I don't know about that. When a person is taught one thing from the beginning of their lives, like in North Korea, there is no room for anything else. If they've never heard of the Christian God in their mind, how can they know what is on their hearts? I'm not buying it.
So, based on that, the vast majority of North Koreans are going to hell through no fault of their own. They had no control over what country they were born in, and now they're destined to suffer, not only in this life, but in an after life too?
Going back to the faith thing. If God truly did create us, he should know everything about us, and how we think and operate. He knows that the majority of us are from Missouri - the Show Me State - if you will. To humans, seeing is believing. Whether we directly observe things around us, or perform experiments to give us measurable evidence of something indirectly, we will believe it.
Staying invisible and detached from your creation makes it very difficult for it to believe in you and have faith. Blind faith is not something that comes easy to most of us.
The more we learn about ourselves, our environment and the space around us, the more we can believe in the physical universe around us, rather than, what appears to be a mythical figure governing everything in whom we have no direct contact or evidence of.
I think, now, that in past ages, when, collectively, our knowledge of things was very limited, people turned to the stories of God and faith as a way to reconcile things they didn't understand. These days our knowledge is so much more advanced about everything from our own biology, to astronomy and archaeology, that we can now actually explain and understand things that we never could before. We don't need to attribute things to an all powerful entity because we had no other reasonable explanation.
Whether its Christianity, Islam, or any other religion, it divides us and causes us to kill one another and always has.
I don't think there is a single thing in history that has caused more wars and deaths than religion. Nearly all religions claim to be a religion of peace and love, yet, when people come together with different views on God, or a 'sacred location' they take to killing one another. They either need to believe like they do, or die for their own views.
This upsets me to see. We see this in the news every day now. Radical Islam and terrorism. Don't forget in Ireland the Protestants and Catholics bombing each other for years. The Spanish Inquisition and on an on through the history books. Wars were conducted "in God's name" or "God wills it" were common themes.
I know many good people, Christian people, who think all Muslims should be killed, unless they get saved by Christianity. That doesn't sound very loving toward your fellow man to me. So should they go to Hell because they don't believe the Christian God? Likewise, I'm sure there are plenty of Muslims who feel the same way about Christians. We already know there are plenty of them who are actively carrying that plan out today. It’s a two-way street and both sides, all sides, think theirs is the right way and that "God is on their side".
How do we know which side is the right side? I mean really, how?
Reprove, rebuke and exhort. That is part of a verse in the bible that is touted a lot in Baptist churches. The saying is that Christianity is 2/3's negative and 1/3 positive. After more than a decade of hearing negativity about myself, as a human, it wore on me and made me into a person I didn't like being.
Religion is all about judgment of others and ourselves. Yeah, I know I'm not a perfect person and I make mistakes, sometimes intentional - we all do from time to time. But I don't need to be reminded of it 3 or 4 hours every week.
It got to the point, very early on in my Christianity, that I was judging everyone - in my mind for just about everything they would do, or say. I'm not going to list out details of these things, because its pointless, but I think if you're reading this, you can figure it out.
"Oh, that person missed a Sunday night service. I wonder what they were doing? I bet they stayed home to watch the Super Bowl and then see Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction on live TV. Serves them right; sinner."
"Yeah, those two people are living together and they're not married. For shame."
You get the idea here? Constantly judging others, in my mind, made me an unhappy person, an unfriendly person, because I was doing everything right - just ask me! Because of this, personal relationships with some friends and family members suffered greatly. My sister and I didn't speak much for years and it was pretty much all my fault, not hers. I offended my father and he (initially) kicked me out of the house. What was the common denominator here? Religion.
I wasn't always very friendly at work either because no one there went to church like I do. My professional relationships also never were what they could have been. Again, religion was the root cause.
I had just become such a negative person and I was not getting any better having religion in my life. Before I got into Christianity, I wasn't like this. I was relatively positive and friendly towards people.
In December 2014, I attended my last church service and skipped the New Years Eve service (I always skipped those because I don't like staying up late). The following Sunday in January I didn't go because the weather was bad and the roads were icy. That day I took stock of things and my life and decided I needed to change. I was bitter and sour and I dreaded (for several years now) going to church. I was tired, and had enough of the brow beating of how horrible the world is, how terrible I am as a sinner and how if I don't live right, according to the bible, I'm a bad Christian.
All of this is a recipe for disaster. So much negativity and bitterness isn't good for the health and isn't good for anything else.
I wrote an email to the pastor and associate pastor on Monday. Well, I wrote it on Sunday but sent it on Monday. I didn't want to ruin their day at church with it. This wasn't the way I had initially envisioned it going. I was going to talk to them in person and say goodbye. However, the pastor was out of town that week and I was at home with icy roads. But I wanted to get this over with, so I resorted to an email.
The people at the church, the pastors and others I've met through the years are all good people and I still consider them my friends. Despite some of the things I wrote above, there were plenty of fun times and great memories I shared with them. I harbor no ill will toward any of them.
At this point, I just no longer believe in the same things they do.
In 2015, without church or religion, I found myself doing well. My attitude regarding negativity and being judgmental has improved greatly. I no longer go around thinking about what others are doing and passing judgment on them. I'm actively trying to be positive and look at things from that side of life now.
Personal and professional relationships are vastly improved. My sister and I talk now and we often go out for dinner, or visit one or the others homes and cook something there.
The bitterness and dark attitudes I carried around are nearly all gone and I look for the good in the people and focus less on the bad or rather the differences between me and them.
Nothing bad, or tragic has befallen me either. Some people in Christianity like to believe, and preach, that if you fall out of the will have God, that you open yourself up to bad things happening. Well, nothing yet awful has happened to me, and, in fact, things are getting better. My health has improved, relationships have improved, and my financial status has improved among other quantifiable things.
I just don't believe that there are unseen consequences for a person who doesn't go to, or quits going to church. I believe that our lives are what we make of it. I believe there are consequences for our actions - inasmuch as when dealing with other people and the physical world around us.
Lets start focusing more on our humanity and less on things that tear us apart and drive us to hurting others. The better way of living our lives, in my new opinion, is to live for each other and help everyone improve themselves and be able to think clearly and not be hoodwinked into what a religion says we should think.
2015 was a good year for me and the best one in a very long time.
To summarize things, I've quit Christianity a year ago and I couldn't have been happier since. There was too much negativity and unanswered questions and beliefs that I can no longer subscribe to with it. I felt like I was brain-washed, as a poor excuse for a cliche; I wasn't able to freely think and consider things in my own mind.
I am not able to reconcile the thought of an eternal damnation for humans, that an all-powerful being created in whom he claims to love. The differences in peoples across the planet and through history show that there are many different ideas about God and how can we truly know which one is the right one - or if any of them are the right one.
What I believe now is that it's more important to me to be happy in my life and treat others with respect and peace, regardless of how they choose to live their lives. I no longer have any use for religions, of any sort, because I see how they destroy our civilizations, bring death and war upon us. I see how it can prevent us from enjoying ourselves, responsibly of course, in numerous ways.
If the religions of this world held true to their claims of peace and love, things would be much different. But, sadly, they don't and our world is a big mess because of it.
I didn't write this with the intent of offending anyone, especially my friends who still believe in Christianity and its God. But I wrote it for myself and to put out there for anyone to read, how religion has changed my life and how I'm now putting it back together the way it should be - the way I want it to be.
Download the pdf version with pictures here.