Monday, February 28, 2011

My life story, Part II

Me in college
As I said in my last post, my parents decided to take me back to church.  We started attending a small Methodist church, and not long after my parents discovered a local Christian radio station that rebroadcasted many things from Focus on the Family.  They slowly started becoming much more conservative in their religious beliefs.  When I was eighteen I was baptized in the same church we attended.

Not long after that we moved, I ended up doing home school my last two years of high school because we had to move several times and it would have been too much work starting new schools every couple of months.  This hurt my science education, but at the time I really didn't care, nor even realize I was being shorted.  I still managed to get into a good private college, Hendrix, in central Arkansas.

Yes I am in this photo, top row 6th from the left

During freshman orientation I met several people who were involved in a campus ministry called Student Mobilization. This group was heavily focused on mission work and evangelism.  I became increasingly focused on religion, I even decided to major in religious studies, with the plan of becoming a pastor or something along those lines.  My first two summers I went to a summer retreat with Student Mobilization to teach me how to be a better evangelist.  I stopped playing video games very much by the end of my sophomore year because several people in the ministry thought it was a waste of time that could be better spent sharing the gospel with other students.  I gave up listening to secular music and only listened to Christian rock, which except for 3 or 4 bands is almost universally horrible. I ended up giving up many things that made me who I was in a effort to fit in.

During this time I believed myself to be happy, after all I had friends that I fit in with, a group to belong too, and, of course, I was "saved."  However, there were a few dark clouds.  I occasionally felt like I didn't fit very well, like religion was the only thing I had in common with many of my friends.  I still "struggled" with pornography from time to time.  (there is a masturbation joke waiting to be made there but I will resist the urge) Also, I had niggling doubts about things, particularly theology.  These issues would occasionally make me depressed but I mostly ignored this stuff.

My first real doubts about religion came after my third year of college.  I did not attend Student Mobilization's camp that year, instead I decided to go on a mission trip to India, and I did this by going through another group that some people in Student Mobilization recommended to me.  I ended up in Calcutta for the summer, and as it turns out more than half of the group I was with came from a charismatic Pentecostal background.  I had, of course, read about these groups in classes and had talked with a few before.  However, as a guy with a background in Methodist, Baptist, and Non-denominational churches I had never been in the middle of a large group of people charismatic Christians.  The way the approached religion was so different than I did that it was hard to relate to them.  For instance, I believed in demons, but was rational enough to know how germ theory worked.  Therefore, when I got sick I went to the doctor or took some medicine.  I didn't blame demons for things that were caused by completely natural causes.  However, most of these people did blame demons, and wanted to pray over people, and preform faith healings on them when they got sick.  I thought it was common sense, we were living in a strange country with all sorts of germs we were not accustomed too, it was more likely for us to get sick than back home.  I felt like I had stepped 400 years back in time while speaking to some of my fellow missionaries.

Furthermore, some of them had prayed over me to receive the gift of speaking in tongues.  I felt nothing, but eventually I just started speaking gibberish because I was rather uncomfortable and wanted out of the situation.  I was certain they would see through the ploy, but instead they fell for it.  I knew I was not doing anything but spouting nonsense, there was no mystical experience.  There was just...nothing.

These events gave me pause, especially when I got home and had time to reflect.  The position they took would have seemed perfectly reasonable a few hundred years ago, and in fact seemed scripturally sound.  My thoughts on these things were more scientifically based, and they had thought I was not a faithful enough Christian because of it.  The question that came to my mind was how much of my own beliefs were might seem just as crazy to someone else.  I didn't have a good answer, but I did not like the implication of my thoughts.

The year after I came back from India the ministry I was involved in had a change of leadership on my campus.  They guy who took over had been a friend of mine for several years so I was naturally supportive of what he was doing.  However, he ended up being rather controlling and making massive changes to the ministry.  Many of these changes ended up pushing me out much of my active role there, the biggest of which was the shut down of the meeting in which I played guitar for the worship band.  I felt a bit put out by this, but still tried to support him.

I ended up staying in college for a 5th year for various reasons, at this point the new leader became almost hostile to me, he told me outright that I was "not submitted enough to the authorities that god had placed in my life," and told me that he would not write any recommendation for me to join any ministry upon graduation. (which was still a career goal of mine at this point.)  I can only guess this was because I was developing a habit of asking uncomfortable theological question, and because I did not share certain personality traits he found were needed for being a evangelist.  At the same time he decided to start a new weekly meeting for the ministry, and unsurprisingly he did not ask me to be in the worship band.  He instead picked a "disciple" of his that he clearly liked better than me.

Of course since I was a 5th year student most of my closest friends who would have defended me had already left, so with no one to turn to I was quickly ignored.  I became depressed, stopped attending church, barely paid attention to my classes and as a result almost didn't graduate.  I ended up a credit short and had to take a summer class to get my diploma, and on top of that I had no job prospects when I graduated since any ministry was going to ask for references, which I knew I would not get.  Plus I was having serious questions about my religion which no one, not even God, seemed to be able to answer.  By the time I finished college I was an emotional wreck.

I'll leave this to be finished in part 3, don't worry, it will end on a happier note.  Haven't you guys ever been to the movies?  Trilogies always look worst for the protagonist at the end of part 2.


  1. Is this the part where you're encased in carbonite?

  2. @Anonymous: Yes, tune in next time when I fight a Rancor

  3. I really regret not keeping in touch when I left Hendrix. I think we were at different places in our deconversions at that time, but having someone to talk to would've been helpful. I felt panicked, like the only thing about myself that mattered was slipping away, and I was going to take everyone around me down with me. I pleaded with God, begged for help but surprise, surprise, I never got an answer. Looking back the thing that makes me angriest is the way the fear of hell lingered long after I had rejected Christianity. It seems nonsensical (and also embarrassing) now -- I absolutely denied the existence of all gods, but was still afraid I would go to hell. But that's why indoctrination is so insidious. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  4. Eh, no worries. We were both in a difficult place back then. I know I found some online outlets or I would have felt totally alone, Arkansas isn't known for its large atheist population.

    I dealt with that fear of hell too, even when I didn't believe it was a real place.