I wasn't sure exactly how to say this, so I'm just going to dispense with the formalities in the title.
I was born, and have been raised as a Christian. However, I have recently had an epiphany and soon became an atheist there after.
Why? Well, it's taken me my entire life to get to this point.
As I said, I was born into a Christian family. I was taken to a Lutheran church every Sunday. When I was eight years old, I received my first Holy Communion. On that same Sunday, my parents gave me my very first Bible.
It was one of those ubiquitous NIV "Study Bibles for Kids". Its pages are well worn: I took my Bible with me to church camp every summer for eight years. I've read most of the Bible. I admit, I'm not strong on Malachi or some of the other minor prophets, but I'm very familiar with almost all of the New Testament, in addition to Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Jonah, the Psalms, and Ecclesiastes. I'm not an atheist who knows nothing about religion. Also, I do have some knowledge of other religions. I am currently in an Eastern religions class, and I have had many friends of the Muslim and Jewish faiths.
Anyways, back to the story. Around the time I entered high school, I was confirmed as an adult member of my church. As one of the requirements of my confirmation, I had to write and deliver a statement affirming my Christian faith, which I did.
As I entered high school, I was a confirmed member of my Lutheran church, actively trying to be strong in my Christian faith. I tried to adhere to Christian principles in how I lived my life. I believe I have good values and morals.
Entering my freshman year of high school, I had very few friends. I was developmentally delayed when I was very young: I was 2 or 3 when I was diagnosed with a mild form of autism. I never really seemed to fit in much with other kids. I never really understood how to fit in, either. I've never been a social butterfly. When I was in junior high school, I had known people from the band and honors classes, but I didn't really connect with them.
However, I gradually started to make friends my freshman year of high school. I'm not sure exactly how it happened. I just became more open to other people, and more willing to put myself out there. I think my Scouting background helped me with this.
I became a Cub Scout when I was in the fourth grade, and I was just a small boy. I was a runt of a little kid: when I was that age, I refused to eat almost everything, and I was very uncoordinated, so I wasn't athletic, either. I had very few friends at that time, and I had very little confidence in my ability to make friends. Most of the few close friends I had known moved away or lost touch with me. I had trouble approaching new people.
Most people enter Cub Scouts either as a Tiger or a Bear. (In Cub Scouting, the groups are according to age. Tigers are usually 5 or 6 years old, and Bears are usually around 7 or 8 years old...however, it might be Wolf that matches with that age group...I'm not completely sure.) So most people have been in Cub Scouting for a long time by the time I entered. I was ten years old when I first became a Cub Scout...so I didn't really know what I was getting myself into.
Let me just say it...I absolutely hated Cub Scouts. I'm not really a fan of the program. It's a bunch of little kids running around wrecking havoc. It's no wonder that adults have to do everything with the Cub Scouts...they're so young, they can't be expected to do anything for themselves. But that does take a lot of fun out of the program. The first few meetings I went to were absolutely chaotic...so many young boys flying around our elementary school cafeteria...I was swept up in this madness and I felt as if I had no idea what was going on. By the time I was ready to leave Cub Scouts in the fifth grade, the sum of my accomplishments consisted of:
1. Two poorly built Pinewood Derby cars.
2. Barely finishing the Arrow of Light requirements...and I mean, just barely.
So I had my doubts about the Scouting program. However, two of my closer friends from my Cub Scout den had decided to check out Boy Scouts and see what it was all about. So I decided to follow my friends' lead and cross over into a Boy Scout troop...just to see what it was like.
Well, I had an amazing experience in Boy Scouting. Several of my closest friendships to this day, were forged in my Boy Scout troop. I remember the first meeting I went to...how lost I felt. I remember my first campout...how my mother made me take a weather radio and I had to borrow my friend's camping gear because I didn't have any!
Scouting taught me how to be a leader...how to be self-reliant, and take responsibility for my own actions...how to function as a member of a group...how to be confident in myself...how to make friends. It was invaluable for me. I gained more and more leadership experience.
My first job was as an assistant patrol leader. One of my friends from my Cub Scout Den was our patrol leader. My job was to represent our patrol at troop meetings when the patrol leader was absent, which I did. After that, I became our patrol leader, which I did for about six months. I served for more than a year as the Troop Scribe: I was in charge of taking notes at all of our meetings (which is difficult to believe considering just how poor my handwriting really was at that age.) I was eventually appointed as Senior Patrol Leader of our troop, the most important youth position in the entire troop: I was the direct link between the adult leadership of the troop and all of the other boys. It was my various and extensive failures in this position that taught me a lot of what I know about leadership.
Almost no one listened to me. I learned how to get people to take me seriously...however, sometimes it is still a problem for me. I'm not the kind of person who is often angry at people; usually I am angry about ideas or specific things. It's hard for me to be a disciplinarian; it just doesn't feel natural to me.
However, I learned from this, and by the time I left my Boy Scout troop, I became a widely respected leader within the troop. But I didn't leave before finally earning the rank of Eagle Scout...the highest rank in Scouting. It was a goal of mine that took me six and a half years to complete. Only 2% of people who enter Cub Scouts ever attain the rank of Eagle Scout.
So where was I? Ah yes, I was a freshman in high school, still only a Star Scout (two ranks below Eagle Scout.) The experience and knowledge I had gained through Scouting up to that point had given me a world of confidence. It is no coincidence that I had served as Senior Patrol Leader the very summer before I entered high school: that is one of the things that motivated me as I entered my new environment.
I began to reach out to new people, just as I had learned to do through Scouting. The knowledge was deep within me to do this, but it took Scouting to unleash it.
For years, I had been quietly observing the social interactions of my peers. I have spent a great portion of my life thus far, thinking. Much of that experience has been thinking about how to get along with my classmates and other people I encountered. I spent a lot of time thinking about this.
It was when I was in high school that I openly talked to people who weren't Christian about my religious beliefs for the first time. It was when I was a freshman that I first heard some of my friends were atheist. Of course I heard it secondhand. This was high school, after all.
Initially, it greatly shocked me. I was thinking "atheist?!?"
It was such a wild and crazy thing to believe. I didn't really understand what it was. I had been a Christian my whole life; I firmly believed it. I lived my life by that belief. To say I was perplexed is a bit mild.
On an interesting note, it was freshmen year that I read the entire "Left Behind" series...as well as a 1500 page history of Christianity. I also read "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens that year. I read quite a bit. I've always loved to read, and I would read during the school day in my spare moments so I wouldn't have to interact with my classmates when I didn't feel like it.
It was sophomore year that a few people I knew openly revealed their atheism or agnosticism when I was in their presence. Okay, the phrase "in their presence" sounds weird, but no one ever said anything directly to me...remember, I was still somewhat socially awkward. Even though I had made many more friends by sophomore year, most of the people I was surrounded by were still locked in their perception of me from earlier years or still didn't know me well enough to confide in me.
Well, I didn't really talk about it with anyone then because I had other things on my mind; and the people who were atheist or agnostic that I knew really didn't care enough to talk about it. I had risen to the rank of Life Scout, only one rank below Eagle Scout. My classes and activities were really stressing me. I was a class officer, an officer of our French club, a member of our Academic Team for fine arts, a member of our French academic team...I was going insane, haha.
And it was sophomore year that I read "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"...which is about 1400 pages in length.
Junior year, some of my closer friends told me that they were atheist. The people I had known before who were atheist or agnostic were just people I barely knew, or people who weren't really close friends of mine. This time, my friends wanted to talk religion with me.
So we did. I, of course, dutifully performed my role as Christian apologetic..though at that point, I had never heard of Christian apology, or apologetics. I just defended my personal beliefs about Christianity for weeks and months on end, during my Study period in the physics classroom.
We argued about it a lot first semester...but it was barely mentioned during the second half of the year. There were two people I was arguing with: one of them was a close friend, and the other had detested me since elementary school (he had bullied me then) but was friends with the other person in the discussion who was a close friend of mine.
I will refer to one of them as "the bully" and the other one will get the pseudonym "Jason".
The bully was really a jerk when we tried to discuss religion. He was always saying that Christians are idiots, and really foolish. Of course, he was much more vulgar and crude and profane in saying this than I can possibly convey to you....
"F***ing Christians and their God" was a typical statement from the mouth of the bully. Mind you, he was no intellectual. The only reason he had ever become atheist, I later discovered, was that Jason had convinced him of it, and the bully blindly followed Jason's example. There are, indeed, some atheists who refuse to think for themselves.
However, Jason was highly intellectual...and much more tolerant of my views and he was also willing to listen carefully to what I had to say. I also have an intellectual bent. I mostly enjoyed my discussions about religion with Jason.
Jason never really convinced me on anything involving my Christianity. He really didn't have that much to do with my decision-making. Of course he questioned the dark moments in the history of Christianity, but I attributed these to human fallacy and stated that it wasn't the Church's fault. He talked about homosexuality, and the Bible's condemnation of it. He talked about his friends who told him they were born homosexuals. Of course, I told him that I felt the New Testament really wasn't against homosexuality. But as a natural extension of that, he began to question my interpretation of the Bible itself. How could people like me pick and choose what they wanted to listen to, he asked me. I told Jason I believed the Bible to be the Word of God. Well, said Jason, if it is God's Word you should take it seriously. I had already admitted to Jason that I took some parts of the Bible literally and some figuratively. He inquired how I could tell the difference between the two. Of course, I told him the Holy Spirit guides believers on how to interpret the Bible. So the discussion eventually come to a consensus, and to a close. Jason was still an atheist, the bully was still an asshole, and I was still a Christian.
It was also junior year that I began to read novels by Kurt Vonnegut. I really love Kurt Vonnegut. I'm pretty sure that I was moved to tears the day I heard of his death...the only other people who made me cry when they died where Charles M. Schulz and my great-grand-aunt (two entirely different people, haha.)
I read Slaughterhouse Five. I read Player Piano. I read Cat's Cradle. I read A Man Without A Country.
These works made me question my faith (well, it was almost exclusively Cat's Cradle that made me question my faith). But I still believed that God existed, that He was the Christian God (part of the divine Holy Trinity) and that He was a loving, caring God devoted to His creation.
Most of the experiences I endured that tested my faith before I became an atheist were retroactive in effect: while I was still a Christian, they merely raised interesting points. As soon as I began to seriously doubt my faith, they reaffirmed the direction of my belief.
It was during my senior year of high school that I earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
I had worked on the finer details of my project for most of the previous summer, and it was during the fall of that school year that I led and completed my project, my project was approved, and my family and my troop held an Eagle ceremony to recognize my achievement.
Senior year was also the year I read Slapstick, yet another excellent novel by Kurt Vonnegut.
I was overwhelmed all throughout my senior year of high school. I had no idea where I wanted to go to college; I was lost in the chaos of the college application process. A thousand thoughts were swirling in the back of my mind.
I had no time to think. As I have said earlier, I've devoted a considerable portion of my life to thinking. This constant white noise in the back of my consciousness, this mental clutter and static, was frustrating me a great deal. Looking back now, this is the first time in my life that I saw religion as just another part of the white noise in my mind.
Every time I had an "impure thought" or wanted to mutter a curse word, I blamed myself. I wasn't trying hard enough. I didn't have enough faith.
If you ever have to sit through three years of a Lutheran catechism class, take my advice:
At least 90% of the time, the answer is faith.
The answer is almost always: faith.
I had always tried to live up to the moral standards of my religion...but for the first time in my life, I felt I was failing at this task. I couldn't control my thoughts...heck, I was a hormonal 17 year old male...how could I have? I was blaming myself...for how nature made me. I didn't realize this at the time, of course. It took doubt to make me see this reality...how I was slowly driving myself insane with self-judgment and self-criticism.
But even at this point, I was still a Christian.
Well, this is all I can manage for now. I will add the rest later...especially the part where my Christianity quits making sense to me.
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