As a child I was always fascinated by dinosaurs and anything that had to do with space and the sun. I always wondered why dinosaurs weren’t still wandering around the world today, every adult I would ask would never have a clear answer. I would watch shows like Captain Planet or Bill Nye the Science Guy and would be glued to the TV; this was information that I wasn’t taught anywhere else. Science was calling to me and I didn’t even know it yet.
Growing up in an extremely religious household I was forced to memorize bible verses every Sunday and go to church 3 times a week. This was exhausting and it seemed that I never would memorize the verses in time. My younger brother and I would frantically cram these archaic words into our heads on the ride to church. I would recite these sentences week after week and never really remember a single one for longer than that week; I never really saw the point. If you really enjoy something as a child you will remember that moment your entire life and you want to pass that experience on to your own children.
I was taught that missing church was a sin. If we did, God would do bad things to us as a result of our unfaithfulness. This instilled fear into my mind from a young age – I was taught to never question God or the bible. One occasion I remember being extremely sick and asked my Dad if I could stay home from church that day. I was told that if I prayed really hard on the way to church that God would heal me, so I did as I was told. While standing during praise and worship, I felt so nauseated that I asked to be excused to the restroom. I made it about 10 feet before I heaved all over the church isle. I was slightly embarrassed but more scared of what God would do to me now that I have changed the color of the carpet in His church.
Years later, my brother had a similar experience where he was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed. My father gave him the 3rd degree, explaining to him all the things God would do to him if he didn’t come to church. Reluctantly, my father eventually asked my mother to stay with him as he whisked me up left. I don’t remember my Dad saying one word to me on that car ride. I was convinced that my brother would be going straight to hell if he was lying.
In my brother’s mind, he had to show my father evidence that he was really sick. So sick in fact that he really did vomit and when he did, he made sure he kept it in a cup and left it on the back porch as evidence for my father; such a lovely thing for a son to feel compelled to do to escape the wrath of a vengeful Father and God.
In my Father’s defense, he was raised Catholic and sent to a Catholic school with nuns that literally and stereo-typically punished him with rulers and forced him to say his Hail Mary’s. If anyone grew up in a world that was constantly controlled and ruled by fear, you would submit wholeheartedly due to the repercussions of standing against the word of god. I actually applaud his amazing amount of patience he endured during this time period, because I would have completely fought the system demanding my freedom.
When I turned 16, I got a job and had to work on Sunday’s. At first I was overwhelmingly scared at what God would do to me for missing church. Then a Sunday went by, then another and another. Life went on and God was, in fact, not punishing me for missing church. My boss asked me which days I would like to have off and I replied “Can you work me every Sunday?” Puzzled my boss said, “Ok sure” but he never asked why. Man, it was a good summer!
Due to the persistence of my father I finally asked off a few Sundays and “found the time” to go to church. I sat in the teen section to “relate” to other teens as I did not know the real reason why I was there. I remember during praise and worship that a fellow teen actually fell over and went into a seizure. Screams overpowered the songs of praise that filled the sanctuary, I was scared out of my mind. Did he fully become engulfed in the holy spirit? Was he so overcome with god that he started to shake? Elders of the church leapt into action, moved chairs out-of-the-way and lifted him out of the service almost if it was synchronized, I am sure they have removed people before today. He was in the middle of singing and praising god’s name. Why wouldn’t God stop him from seizing? I sat quietly trying to make sense of the events that just took place. The band kept playing as if nothing had happened.
The church soon found out about a month-long “revival” happening in Brownsville Florida. They added a second collection plate to cover enough money to send my brother and myself, along with 30 other teens, in a charter bus to Florida. I brought a cassette tape filled with Weird Al Yankovic songs that made the 16 hour trip “bearable”. Weird Al, you have no idea how you kept me smiling through this time.
After the longest bus ride ever, we arrive in Florida. It was scary at first being so far from home. We stayed at a local church where they had a teen center. Pool table, Air Hockey, and ping-pong were the highlights from that week. Then bused to a “revival” where I had a pastor try to push me down with his palm in my face just as he did to the other teens around me. I had a new girlfriend who I’m sure watched that I didn’t go down easy. I fought the pastor and did not want to be pushed onto the floor. However I gave in to the situation and fell because he was very persistent. So this is God? This is the reason people come here? I felt like such a fool.
I tried to make conversation with my girlfriend on my way back home from Florida. Her words exactly, “I think I need spend more time with God right now”. As a 17-year-old not knowing much about life, I blamed myself and was crushed. Did I do something wrong? Did I not let God into my heart as the others did? As I do with most of my relationships, I always blame myself as to why it ended. If only I could go back in time and tell my 17-year-old self the things I know now.
I finished college at age 20 with a degree in computer science and over the next 4 years I moved from my small hometown in rural Ohio to Columbus, to Atlanta, and then to Los Angeles. I never really thought a lot about God and just lived my life. I met some awesome people that really helped me open my eyes and learn about the world around me. If you don’t ever leave your tiny mid-eastern town, your views and opinions rarely change about life in general. Mainly I went from being a rather conservative Republican to a Liberal Democrat (But that’s another story in itself).
At age 26, I landed a job back in Ohio which really made my parents happy. I also was glad to be back, it really showed me the importance of family. However being back home means I didn’t have much excuse for missing church. So I rented a room a few houses down the street. This allowed me to miss my parent’s call on most Sundays.
Eventually I moved into an apartment with a girlfriend. That lasted almost a year until I found out she was still married to a man out-of-state. I shouldn’t have to ask “Are you are still married?”, yet as always I blamed myself. Severely depressed, I start attending church with my parents more regularly, trying to find direction in my life. As I sit in my chair, listening to our pastor, I block out everything around me and daydream about things that would make me happy in life. Winning the lottery, playing video games, trying to find someone to share my life with. I am completely distracted from the real concerns in life, politics, earth, space, and science. I never cared about these things until I was in my 30’s. I never had a reason to, until my best friend, who as luck would have it was going through his own departure from Christianity, helped me piece together the holes we found in religion. We started to discuss some of the faulty logic we found throughout Christianity – in fact we came to believe the entire concept of religion was, at its foundation, built from faulty logic. A bronze age explanation for things that science does a much better job at.
Fast forward into the present, with the information I know, I must be very gentle on how I explain certain things in life that most people are unable to process. I can’t even imagine how to explain that you have been taught a lie your entire life. It’s like The Matrix quote, “Most people aren’t ready to be unplugged.” That is the most accurate statement towards religion that I have ever heard.
I truly love my wife with all my heart, we have been together for 5 years now, married for 3. Most fights boil down to religion even if isn’t the reason why we are arguing in the first place. It’s not healthy for anyone in this situation and so to achieve peace, I have moved out. I told myself that I cannot keep living a lie.
With my new-found understanding of life, this knowledge comes at a great cost. Most every relationship I have built around me to this point in my life, cannot fathom facts and evidence that contradict their belief system. I don’t understand why it took me 32 years to understand logic that has been smacking me in the face the entire time. I shouldn’t expect many of my friends and family to follow me along down this path.
Where do I go from here? I don’t know but I’m excited of the possibilities that lay before me. I want to learn all about science and the world around us. I want to see humans “Boldly go” and explore every place we haven’t been yet.
I found a quote on the internet that really stuck with me and wanted to end on this note.
“People who surrender their religious beliefs must be counted amongst the smartest, bravest people in the world, because they set out to find the truth, despite the threat of eternal damnation.” ~ Unknown