15 December 2006

If This Be Treason...(II)

...make the most of it. This essay deals with my departure from Oneness Pentecostalism.

Why I Left and Whither I Went

So how did I come to reject Pentecostalism? One of my favorite pastimes is reading deconversion stories. I find that most people leave religion for one of two reasons: either their faith leaves them wanting emotionally, or it leaves them wanting intellectually. My case was emotional unfulfillment. When I began posting on the Ex-Pentecostal forums in January of 2006, I still believed Pentecostalism was truth. By that point, however, my faith was dead. I knew God was impotent in my life. I was calloused to the threat of Hell -- I didn’t give a damn about being damned. I was utterly discouraged and bone-weary. But what brought me to that, and why didn’t I just adopt a more liberal form of Christianity rather than rejecting it altogether?

I was raised in the Pentecostal church from the time I was a baby. I was named after Biblical characters, and I was “dedicated” to God as a baby by my parents. The church was life. All of my friends were there. People cared about me there. It was home. As a child, I wanted to follow Acts 2:38; I wanted to be saved. I wanted God to make me into a better person. It took me a while to get around to doing it, as I was shy and didn’t want to go down front and be surrounded by yelling people, but eventually I did get saved. I did so in an upstairs room, with my father. I was exuberant; so happy that I had done the right thing, followed the rules, and no longer had to worry about going to Hell or missing the Rapture.

Being a child, though, I didn’t know how to maintain my newfound “relationship”. As I went from being a preteen to a teenager, I knew I had to “get right with God” and “pray through”. I did so at a revival with a man named Steve Grimsley -- the white male version of Miss Cleo. He dressed like an undertaker, looked like a corpse, and had a deep, booming voice. His "gift" was prophecy. His parlor tricks are laughable to me now, but being a superstitious kid, they terrified me. When he approached me, I was clutching the backs of the pews and weeping profusely, scared to death and knowing that this was it: God was going to get me. It was scary, but when Grimsley motioned for me to come out, I did. He prayed for me twice, both times telling me I had received God’s spirit. I told him I didn’t hear myself the first time, so anxious was I to be sure. That night, I became a Christian.

Unlike my preteen experience, this go-around was “real”. I started stepping outside of my comfort zone and raising my hands. I sang loudly and did “victory marches” around the church during hyperemotional worship services. I prayed all of the time and read my Bible; I went to the rallies and the conferences. I became a Young-Earth-Creationist by watching Kent Hovind’s tapes. I was at my fundamentalist peak in tenth and eleventh grade…but all was not well. September 11th happened when I was in eleventh grade. My first instinct was to pray, and I did: this was the Beginning of the End, I knew. But I was terrified, as I closed my eyes in English class. What if the Rapture had preceded this and I missed it? I was never quite sure that I was going; I had been worried about that all of my life and old habits died hard. That wasn’t the only problem: I couldn’t get excited about Heaven. The general idea, yes -- meeting Jesus and my namesakes would be fun. But my idea of heaven was a park with grass and lush trees and a sparkling lake -- not streets of gold and gates of pearls. Those things didn’t appeal to me. The Rapture, even though I wanted to go, didn’t excite me either. I didn’t want to leave Earth: I liked it here. I wanted to graduate high school, marry, and raise a family. Even at the height of my fundamentalism, I longed for heaven on Earth -- I wanted to see the earth peaceful, healthy, and united in love.

There was another problem: a huge one, one so insurmountable that my only way to deal with it was to ignore it. The problem was that I had never had an intense emotional encounter with God -- not the life-altering kind people spoke of. What was so basic that even the lowliest sinner could do it -- feeling God -- was alien to me. I’ve never felt a supernatural presence the way other people claim to. I recognize why now, but back then it scared me. I thought I had somehow blasphemed the Holy Ghost. Evangelists coming directly to me encouraged me into thinking that God hadn’t forgotten about me, but those emotional experiences always evaporated. I didn’t want to be like Esau or Saul: I was scared of the possibility that I had somehow pushed God so far that he had shut me off from his grace forever.

This was not a momentary crisis of faith; these feelings were in me for years. I hid from them, covered them up with wishful thinking, pretended that they were not there. They started getting to me, though. I stopped wanting to go to rallies and conferences because they reminded me of what I wasn’t: God was directing the lives of those people, working on their behalf and allowing them to serve him. I felt estranged from God, even abandoned sometimes. In late 2004, I could no longer hide from my doubts. I realized that I couldn’t be saved; not without that emotional encounter.

2005 was a rough year for me. My hope in God waned slowly, painfully. I was coming to terms with the fact that I was going to Hell. I realized I deceived myself back during that revival with Grimsley and THAT was why God would have nothing to do with me now. I sympathized with Isaiah, who cried “Woe is me! For I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips, and […] mine eyes have seen the King.” I felt cursed: cursed because I had been raised in this, and had somehow failed despite the advantages “God” had given me. I felt my life was futile and worthless -- that I was going to be forever lost. I felt like spiritual jetsam. It didn’t help that I was utterly alone in this: I had told no one what I was going through.

By the time November of 2005 rolled around, I was done with religion. God had failed me and I him. He was ignoring me, and I was ignoring him. I left services (I wasn’t going out of choice) depressed and angry. I was angry at myself for the failure I was unaware of. I was angry at God for allowing me to be born into this hellbound life; angry at him for ignoring me. I felt like the character of Luke in Cool Hand Luke, speaking to God: “Ol' timer, let me know You're up there. Come on. Love me, hate me, kill me, anything. Just let me know it…” Eventually, like Luke, I concluded: “...I'm just standin' in the rain talkin' to myself." In January, I signed up at the Ex-Pentecostal forums to see what they were like. I told my story and started on a journey that has had a profoundly positive impact on my life.

At the Ex-Pentecostal forum, I discovered freethought. I learned to rely on reason and empathy to live life -- not an old book. I went back to my roots -- a love of education and a love for humanity -- and flourished as I never had before. I no longer believe in the god of my parents, nor do I believe in anything supernatural. Neither of them pass the test of reason. I worship at only one altar; the altar of love. Love for truth and humanity drive me these days. No religion, belief system, or god can compete with the power of a free mind and an open heart.

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Greg said...

Your deconversion narrative is fascinating. I have always been interested to hear other's stories of how they lost faith.

Your line,"I was going to Hell, and there was seemingly nothing I could do about it..." resonated with me. I gave up on any God long before nagging doubts and fear of Hell left me. The Hell idea is an insidious and most effective gimmick.

Anonymous said...

After reading your old journals I wanted to come and read the first entry in your new thought. This is so brutally honest and I really appreciate your transition now. I've been struggling to understand how it came about, but this entry helps me understand. It makes sense to me now. I'm glad you ran in the other direction. I'm glad you never heard God call you... ;)

johnrob011045 said...

Good job! I'm glad you're happy now and you're on the right track. What I'm about to tell you is going to sound like a rude awakening...I've been through all that you described, and in my path, I started seeing visions of what's going to happen...as in psychic phenominon. Then I developed more gifts of knowing others and mentally seeing into the minds of people (this goes beyond intuition as I can tell if someone else is psychic by reading their spirit) and eventually I came to know God just as you know "him" today through understanding myself and realising the "potential" connection we all are given to know him, if only we look inside ourselves on the deepest levels. And I came to understand the bible through Gnosisism and there I believe I have my truth and my nature just as you've found our natures and it all works out perfectly. Some people claim to start seeing visions and things after reading Gnostic literature however I came to it through the visions I was already having. Just a little food for thought my friend. Not trying to trap you in religion-as Gnosisism understands religions were formed by an imperfect God to blind people from their Godly nature-the very nature you have learned. Furthermore as an alternative to religion, our Gospel is written during and before the same time as the dead sea scrolls, only you can see how people became trapt into these religions and felt as though they were created to "worship". lol Enough said, thank you for your story.