Friday, December 7, 2007

Religious Autobiography

At a ripe young age of 10 years, I stood outside the front doors of the church my parents had been bringing me to for some time. Kneeling down in front of me was the preacher and my father, questioning me about the decision I had just made to be baptized. The preacher, knowing my young age, was skeptical of my readiness for what he knew would be a major step in my life. Before he could give me his blessing, he had to know just one thing. “Do you consider yourself a part of the Church?” he asked. Confused by what I thought was obvious, I replied something like: “Yes, I’ve been coming here with my family for a long time.” The preacher shook his head and told me that I was too young to be baptized. After such a letdown, I turned to my father for comfort and explanation. I cried as my father explained to me that it was a trick question. The word “church” means more than just the place we go every Sunday, it is the “club” you can only join by being baptized. However, I did not let such a petty misunderstanding deter me. I knew that I was going to Hell if I didn’t get baptized before Jesus came back, which could be at any time, even that very day. This was all I could think about when it came to baptism. I had to save myself from going to Hell, and if all it took to do that was a little dunk in some water, I was going to do it as soon as I could. Besides, my older brother had been baptized at ten, and nobody felt he was too young. One week later, I was baptized. Finally, I felt safe and satisfied.

I’ve been told that everybody who is religious goes through a phase in which they question their faith. Assuming this is true, I was no exception. I remember the exact moment the seeds of doubt were planted in my mind. It was during a Wednesday night service, and the youth minister was giving yet another one of his powerful lessons, as he always did, this time on the Holy Spirit. Before this night, I had not given much thought to the Holy Spirit. I had just accepted it as it was explained to me: just one part of the three part God. I was about to find out why I was not meant to give it much thought. Mitch, after doing his best to explain the Trinity, quoted a Bible verse that would shake my faith. Matthew 12:31-32 tells us that, despite what I had thought previously, there is a sin for which God would not forgive you. God would not forgive you if you blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. I wrestled with this concept in my mind throughout the rest of the sermon. I could not conceive of a reason why God, who I had been taught would forgive you for any sin you have ever committed if you only repented and asked his forgiveness, would not forgive you of this one thing. What makes the Holy Spirit so special, more special than Jesus or God himself? He soon wrapped up the sermon and closed with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, which sent my mind spinning in confusion. I could not pay attention to the prayer. I was too busy questioning if this were really monotheism.

I soon pushed my doubts aside. I could not let myself think about it that much. Too much was at stake. I could not repeat the falling out my brother had just a few short years earlier. I could not bear to have the same shame leveled at me that was leveled at my brother. I could not dare to allow myself to forsake the thing which was so central in my life; the place where I had so many of my closest friends and so many good memories. I put it in the back of my mind and tried not to think about it as I went along with business as usual. Before too long, I had forgotten all about it as I let the indoctrination of the sermons and the feeling of belonging reel me in once again. It was even after this event that I baptized two of my best friends after inviting them to Church camp. Nonetheless, the seeds of doubt which I had buried long ago in my mind continued to grow despite how much I chose to ignore them.

By the time I got to college and was freed from the influence of my family, I had grown so doubtful of my faith that I decided not to find a new church to attend. I did attend every once in a while with family or friends out of a sense of obligation, but for the most part, I was not a believer in Christianity, but still a theist. I still believed in a God, souls, heaven, hell, and all the basics, but I could no longer differentiate between the truth value in the Christian myths and that of the many myths or other religions I had disbelieved my entire life.

While I now believe that religious beliefs and scientific knowledge are fundamentally opposed, at that time, I think I merely knew it on some subconscious level, but consciously I was apologetically trying to reconcile my beliefs with scientific evidence. This realization didn’t come upon me until the conclusion of an argument I was having with my Mother about evolution. She knew that evolution and creationism don’t mix, but I was arguing otherwise. As I had heard many argue before, I was saying that evolution may have simply been the means by which God created us. After a long argument, she finally showed me the fault in my thinking. She asked me to explain at which point along our evolutionary journey we, as humans, obtained our souls and become capable of going to heaven or hell. This made me ponder and struggle for awhile, and I finally reached a conclusion quite opposite of what my Mother’s question had intended. If evolution is true, we cannot have souls, and Christianity is bunk.

Still, I was not ready to give up my belief in God completely. I was a de facto agnostic, but I was leaning toward believing that there was a God. It was not long before even that wore off. As I began to teach myself, through books and documentaries, about the origins of religions and the belief in God, as well as hearing out the atheistic arguments against religious arguments for believing in a God, I slowly became an atheist. I was willing to live my life under the assumption that there is no God. Even if there were a God, I no longer believed any of the religious gibberish about the consequences of disbelief in God. I felt liberated and guilt-free. My beliefs were mine, shaped completely by my own thoughts, unlike my beliefs growing up. After all, the only reason I believed Christianity earlier in my life was because, as a child, I was susceptible to believe anything my parents and elders told me. I was never presented with any evidence or counter arguments. I wonder if I had been raised in another religion, would I have also dropped it sooner or later. I like to think so.