How I Lost My Faith — Reflections of God’s Love and the Power of Indoctrination: lungfish’s Story, Part One
Part One: Childhood Indoctrination
HA note: The following story is written by lungfish, a formerly homeschooled ex-Baptist, ex-Calvinist, ex-Pentecostal, ex-Evangelical, ex-young earth creationist, current atheist, and admin of the Ask an Ex-Christian web page.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.“ Philippians 1:6
I once called myself a Christian.
I thought I was a child of God among the children of Satan. A shining light in a world of darkness. I was convinced of the absolute truth of the Bible and no amount of human reason could convince me otherwise. I believed the Holy Spirit lived within me, allowing me to be a reflection of Jesus and his love. But, when I finally looked into that reflection, I could not stand what I saw.
Everyday, for more than a year, I sat in the same corner of the cafe at my university for lunch – always facing outward so no one was behind me. Everyone there brought up such an unbearably anger within me – to the point that my muscles would tense into painful spasms and my vision would blur white around the edges. These people never did anything to me, except give the impression of having lived normal lives. My grades began to fall. All I could think about was my past. Memories I had long blacked out began to resurface. I poured over every word in the Bible and every popular Christian belief that I could not reconcile with my own sense of morality. I could not shake the feeling that my entire life had been dedicate to a lie.
I was de-converting.
Christianity sets for its followers impossible standards – so that its people are broken and desperate for the savior it provides. When a Christian truly attempts to desperately live up to those impossible standards, he finds only failure and the feeling that he can never be good enough. But, despite the mental anguish, a believer often remains in the faith because existence in the provided alternative is unimaginable. This is the doctrine of Christianity. This is the life I left behind.
My de-conversion was not voluntary.
I did not go looking to lose my faith. I fought my de-conversion as hard as I could. I had a family, a wife and child. My wife was a Christian. I had brought her to Jesus myself and I didn’t want to lose her by rejecting the very faith that she accepted from me when we were young. But a balloon expanding with air will eventually burst.
This is my story. A story of the unyielding grip that indoctrination held on me.
Childhood Indoctrination: The Baptist Church and Calvinism
“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:15
Indoctrination is defined as the act of programming a doctrine, principle, or ideology: such as religious belief. It is not presented as something you must think about; it is presented as something you must believe. In the case of religion, one’s belief is rewarded by entrance into a heavenly paradise; but failure to believe results in the eternal suffering of the soul in a lake of fire. Religious indoctrination is often forced on a child at the critical age during which the way the child will think, feel, and act for his or her entire life develops. When a child is indoctrinated into a religion, nothing else exists for that child. The mere thought that others can even hold to an alternative faith or belief is completely baffling.
This was Christianity for me.
My faith started at an age much too young to fully understand. Under the desk in the office is where my older brother told me of a place called hell. Tears ran down my face and I begged him for an alternative. Then he told me of heaven and how Jesus, because he was crucified, could save me from this place. This is the first time I accepted Jesus as my savior and my earliest memory.
“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles.” Matthew 7:16
As a toddler, I attended a Baptist church with my mother and brothers. The church was filled mostly by the elderly and fundamental homeschooling families with older children. The culture here was one of strict rules and mistrust of modern medicine and science.
Morality was the center of our being and every move one made was judged harshly.
We believed that it would be observations of our morality, unique in the world, which would bring lost souls to salvation. We were constantly tempted by Satan to sin against God and any momentary weakness could be observed by one of these souls who might then choose to reject God because of our weakness. That person would be sent to hell and it would be our fault. Although, the eventual version of Christianity that I held to was the result of the belief systems of multiple denominations, this is the world I was originally indoctrinated into.
”I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law and a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.“ Matthew 10:35-36
My father did not attend church with us. He had de-converted over a verbal argument with a pastor long before I was born. Afraid that my father would turn her children against God, my mother always kept us at arm’s length from him – making sure we knew that he was not a Christian like we were. The tension between my parents was always high and my brothers and I could sense it. We spent most of our time hiding upstairs in in our separate bedrooms trying to distance ourselves from this tension as much as possible.
The sight of my parent’s broken marriage could be escaped, but the sound could not.
Almost nightly the screaming would echo up the stairwell as my mother tried to force her beliefs and sense of morality on my father. I would often lay awake at night crying and praying to God that they would get a divorce so that the screaming would stop; but divorce was against my mother’s religion.
When my parents weren’t fighting, my father escaped into the cyber world of strategy gaming and conspiracy theory forums. While doing so, he demanded quiet. A single noise traveling down the stairs would set him stomping up to ensure the noise did not continue. He never touched us, but, I can still remember being terrified of him to the point that I could not breathe when he came up those stair.
After years at this small Baptist church, my mother began to realize that my brothers and I were the only young people in attendance.
As homeschoolers, our only contact with other people was through church and, as a result, we had no friends. So, we began attending a small mission church in the next town that leaned towards Calvinism.
Unlike our previous church, worship held a joyful tone and the sermons were passionate. There, at the age of eight, I made my first friend. He was the pastor’s son. He was five years older than me and I saw him as a wise man that I could look up to. He was from the other end of the country and had seen parts of the world I could only dream of. We skied, we biked, and we went on camping trips, talked about life, hobbies, and girls. I also began attending a very small private Christian school in an Evangelical church during this time and came to depend on him for social advice.
After about a year, the mission began losing attendance; so the pastor and his family decided to return to their home church in Florida. A week before their move, I went on one last camping trip with my friend before he had to move thousands of miles away.
There, alone in a tent, my only friend, the pastor’s son, sexually molested me.
That was not the first time I was molested by an older Christian whom I looked up to – so, I thought it was normal. Images of the previous instance are much more vividly burned into my mind. I do not remember how the first came too happened, but I remember who the person was and what he asked of me. These two people told me to never tell anyone – so, I never did.
To be continued.