Sunday, May 21, 2017

Becoming an Atheist Apostate Part 1: My Religious Experience

Hello, I'm Mark and this is my deconversion story.  I was born into a Christian home. I went to so many churches growing up, most of them of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist stripe. I have "accepted Jesus" several times. The times the stick out the most when I was five on  an Easter Sunday of all days. I wanted to go to heaven so bad and descriptions of a Jesus being tortured to death, and  his resurrection inspired/scared me. I was subsequently baptized. At the age of seven, I prayed and accepted Jesus again, because I was not sure I did it right, and  hell  scared the shit out of me.  When I was eleven, I was plagued with doubts and nightmares of hellish torture and demons. The hell, fire, and brimstone preacher did not help by saying the littlest of doubts is cause for concern. So I accepted Jesus again. And since it happened in such dramatic form, I was baptized for the second time. Fast forward about a decade and a half. I had made some pretty major shifts in my thinking and now here I am getting baptized again, not because I "accepted Jesus" or "prayed the sinner's prayer" now  I somehow got super serious about God and realized that "accepting Jesus" was not in the Bible. This was actually a pretty big deal. In order to get saved the right way I had to demonstrate faith and repentance. And the only way to "know" you are saved is by examination of your fruits. This led to me, claiming a much later and more subjective salvation experience, I don't actually know when. This led to another baptism. I was in my late 20s, so not that long ago.

So far this is my religious experience as it pertains to salvation. But here is another aspect that one cannot skip over. At the age of 13 I felt pressured to go into the full time ministry. And at the age of 15 at Lake Texoma Baptist Camp I surrender to this pressuring. This call to the ministry would dominate my life. I would spend hours studying the Bible, reading the Bible in public, and preaching. I was a firebrand fundamentalist. I headed off the Pensacola Christian College in 2002. I would earn a Bachelor's in Pastoral Ministries and Master's in Biblical Exposition.  I almost met the love of my life, my beautiful and wonderful wife. 

While in seminary, I made a major shift.  After some disillusionment with the college my fundamentalism and rigid outlook started to crack. I started to ask questions about some basic things I was being taught. But what filled the crack was not rationality, but Calvinism. An even more entrenched theological position. And while I loosened up on some of the peripheral issues like listening to rock music, woman wearing pants, and KJV only-ism. I dived head first into this deep theological tradition. A mutual friend at college introduced me to the likes of Ron Paul and Alex Jones. I soon started drinking that cool aid too. But I think in the long run it had an impact on my deconversion. I started to broaden my sphere of influence. Atheists like Adam Kokesh, Stefan Molyneux, and Jesse Ventura started to make an impact on how I viewed atheists. I was introduced to the Zeitgeist Movie, which made me actually question my faith for the very first time. Because of this, I started to take apologetic studies way more serious. I was in panic mode and started  soak up all I could from the likes of R. C. Sproul, Ravi Zachrias, Josh McDowel, and William Lane Craig. 

After graduating college, I attend a little but very influential church, Mount Zion Baptist Church. They had a literature distribution center that printed many of the Puritan and Reformed theologians world wide. This would add to my studies. This was a church like nothing I had attended. They took everything serious. Everything they did had a Biblical reason. They actually cared about each other, unlike many other churches they did not rush off at the end of service but stayed and had fellowship. And to be honest I miss this. This church and the people would help me and my growing family at this time financially and medically. And while I could spend quite a bit of time on how awesome this church was especially compared to others. 

There are three things that I think are important. First, I actually enjoyed and looked forward to going to church, I was not bitter or angry. Second, I was sincere, I actually for the first time started to take Christian serious on a whole different level. What did the bible actually say and how does this impact my life. Sure I was serious before but in the rule following sense. For the real first time, truth meant something. I was being transformed on an epistemological level. This would lead to me realizing my call to pastor was not an actual call from God and that many colleges use this call to ministry as way to make money. Today, I think it is all subjective nonsense, but I can say that the reason I am not a pastor today is not due to my atheism. Finally, I think the the clash I had with authority at the church would be very formative in my becoming an atheist. 

So that last part needs some fleshing out. While searching for truth, I came to question the practice of spanking/hitting scripture. I found scientific reasons while this was damaging, but I found little scriptural reason to support this practice. And of course the circle jerk of what the Bible commands and what it doesn't led to many debates on Facebook online, I eventually concluded that I was not going to spank my children. Meanwhile the conspiracy nonsense and anarchism I was exposed to was fueling a passionate search for truth. I was eventually called into the pastors office. My online presence did not go unnoticed, and while the pastor appreciated my desire for truth and my striving to being biblical. He basically said I was in disobedience by not following the leadership God had placed over me and that I was in disobedience to "clear" biblical teachings. Because I was planning to move back home to Virginia, little was actually done about this, but it was very clear that if I stayed there may have been actual biblical discipline if I kept pushing back against the authority placed over me. And in many ways at this early stage in this story, my passion for truth was starting to come into conflict with my desire to be biblical.  

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