Someone mentioned not knowing my backstory, so I thought I’d take a minute and share my background, and how I went from being a committed, conservative, Bible-believing Christian to being—well, whatever it is I am now.
I grew up in a nominally Christian home, and generally believed in God by familial osmosis. We weren’t terribly religious, though. When I was in the sixth grade (12-year-olds, for those of you outside the US educational system), my mother decided to start going to church again, and took us to one of the more liberal Methodist churches in the area. I hated to go because I was kind of a geek and got picked on a lot, but I did sing in the children’s choir and go to catechism class. It was there I got my very first Bible.
It was a “Young Readers” Bible, very large, with pictures and helpful footnotes and introductions to each book. The commentary confused me, because it sounded like the people who wrote the notes didn’t really believe in God, and were talking about the Bible like it had more or less evolved through human fumbling and good intentions. I decided, at that point, that I was going to believe in God regardless of what men said about Him. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that decision made my eventual atheism inevitable.
I continued reading and studying my Bible for the next few years, thinking that I was a good Christian boy, when a friend of mine introduced me to the last vestiges of the Jesus Freak movement, in the early 70’s. He and I attended a gospel concert in the park one summer evening, and I got talking with one of the musicians after the show and she asked me about my sin. Not just sin in general, but my sin personally. I got convicted, and went home and accepted Jesus. In fact, I accepted him three times—the first two didn’t feel like they “took,” somehow. The third time didn’t feel particularly miraculous either, so I decided God must be telling me to walk by faith instead of by feelings. I joined a nearby evangelical church, and was quite happy there for many years.
I went to a conservative Christian college, and got invited to a conference on creationism presented by Henry M. Morris and Duane T. Gish. As a very science-minded young man, I was enthralled. So, the evidence actually supported the book of Genesis? Awesome! I decided to get involved in the creationist movement, and help spread the word. But I wasn’t content to just read what Morris and Gish et al were digging up, I wanted to get out there and make a contribution myself. I went to the library and got out A. S. Romer’s book on vertebrate paleontology.
Yeah, the creationists were distorting the evidence. In fact, though it was hard for me to adjust to the idea, in places they were outright lying. For the first time, I began to realize that, in order to keep my promise to believe in God regardless of what men say, I was going to have to be skeptical about what my fellow conservative Christians were saying as well.
Life marches on. I joined the Army and met a young woman who eventually became my wife. She belonged to the Churches of Christ, a very literal-minded branch of the Christian faith who teach that most believers are still unsaved, because true salvation requires that you not only be baptized, but that you be baptized for the right reasons, i.e. for the remission of sins. I converted, and got re-baptized so that I could really be saved.
The Church of Christ believers were the most Bible-based group I’ve ever encountered, and—stop me if you’ve heard this one—they were also the most legalistic and splintered group I’ve ever met as well. No musical instruments in Church, because the Old Testament had them and the New Testament didn’t, so they must not be authorized. No missionary societies either, because in the New Testament missions were sent out by the churches themselves.
So a bright young guy like me notices that in the New Testament, they didn’t have church-owned property either—all the offering money went directly to supporting the elders and to the relief of the poor. So I mentioned that to the elders, and was promptly given an extended lecture on “necessary inference.” Things that the church wanted to do didn’t need to be explicitly mentioned in the Bible. But musical instruments, and salvation by faith alone, etc, those things were all wrong because they weren’t explicitly mentioned.
Eventually I wound up semi-shunned, due to my promise: I felt obligated to obey what the Bible said regardless of what my elders told me I ought to think it said. Reluctantly (and with a bit of a secret missionary agenda), my wife and I moved back to a more conventional evangelical church.
I’m out of time for today, so I’ll continue with part two tomorrow.