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Let’s start at the very beginning

October 11, 2010

(A very good place to start)

Or: “How I Learned to Start Worrying and Got Where I Am Today”

My parents were both raised in the church but were what we church folk refer to as “casual Christians,” meaning that they attend church but aren’t devout, good Christians who do everything they should.  My dad left the church in his teens and 20s and explored various other religions before “finding God” again at some point before I was born.  My mom, as far as I know, was always just a casual church goer up to that point.

After my dad’s conversion experience they both became active church members in a local Southern Baptist (SBC) church.  My dad became a deacon in the church and the two of them became Sunday School and “Training Union”1 teachers.  My sister and I were raised in a Christian home, complete with home Bible study and worship times.  We were at every church event we could be at, attended church three times a week (Sunday morning and evening, and Wednesday night) and were involved in the children’s activities.  When I started 1st grade they began to home school us, feeling God calling them to do so.  I was home schooled all the way through high school.

Major life-changes

When I was 10 my father felt the “call to ministry,” quit his very well-paying job, packed up our family, and moved halfway across the country to attend seminary.  We left behind lots of family and friends and moved to a place where we knew nobody, a place with an entirely different culture from where we had lived before.

Now, I don’t resent any of this.  My parents were only doing what they felt was best for our family.  They felt, and still feel, that this was where God had led them.  If we hadn’t left the small town where I was born then I may not have ever gotten to the point where I am today.  I may have gone to college but I am unsure as to whether I would have gotten a graduate degree, it isn’t something most people from that town aspire to.  I may instead be working some dead-end job there in that town, attending that same church I grew up in, with a wife and two kids who I would probably be indoctrinating into the same religion.

However, that future didn’t happen and I may have ended up in exactly the same place I am now.  I don’t know.  (And at least that version of me would be employed!)  I had many opportunities to explore my music after we moved, thanks to living on the campus of a graduate school (since a Southern Baptist seminary is an accredited graduate school) with a music program, and living in a large metropolitan area (not that the area we moved from is tiny, but it is small, and the town we lived in is itty bitty).  Also, some of my best friends, with whom I still keep in touch, were met in the ten years we lived there.  (Including, I might add, the friend I mentioned in a comment on my first post, through whom I found the blog of PZ Myers.)

My dad eventually got a master’s degree and has become a pastor.  He has pastored two churches over the past ten years.  I went on to attend a christian university, get a bachelor of music, and lead music part-time in four churches over the past ten years.  My sister has married a friend of ours from college who is now in seminary himself.  As you can see, my immediate family is very involved in the church and very devout in their faith.  It would break their hearts if they knew that I was on the path I now find myself, writing this blog.

For the first twelve years or so of this life, I believed firmly in everything that I was told by my parents, teachers at the churches we attended, and the ministers of those churches.  God created the world in 6 days, rested on the 7th, destroyed it with a flood a while after that, and then a while later sent his son to die for our sin.  I believed this all happened a few thousand years ago.  Of course, I also believed the things I read in my books about dinosaurs (I was a huge dino-fanatic back in the 80s) about their having lived on earth several million (quite a few several) years ago.  My child’s brain didn’t worry that these two “facts” could not logically coexist.  At some point, however, my brain did begin to see that these two things could be reconciled to each other.

The doubt creeps in…

Now begins the most confusing part of my life, as if puberty needed anything to make it more confusing, right?  For most of my teen years I struggled with feelings of guilt for things I thought or things I did.  For the natural urges that overtake you in your teen years, and for any doubts that I might have about my religion.  I was deeply conflicted and I tried to channel this into some sort of fervency for my religion.  I studied the Bible, I prayed, and I tried to change myself to match what I had been taught a Christian should be. I made sure that I acted the way I should act, sometimes to the extreme (because, quite often, those who appear to be most a particular thing are actually over-compensating for not being quite that thing).

This continued until probably the end of my sophomore year of college.  At some point in this period I began to doubt the truth of what I read in the Bible, and began to question the existence of God.  I didn’t tell anyone this, and I barely admitted it to myself.  If only I could hold onto my faith and study more then I would be able to dispel all these doubts and be a happy Christian once again, I thought.  Being surrounded by super-religious people in my neighborhood at the seminary and at my college didn’t make things any easier.  Taking a church job allowed me to push it to the back of my mind, at least.

And that is all that I will share, for now. I’ll finish the history lesson of my life in the next post.

1For the unchurched and non-SBC folks reading this, Training Union (now known as “Discipleship Training”) is basically like Sunday School but at night.  Both are supposed to be times to study the Bible on a more intimate level than you can in the worship service, with group discussions and such, but more often they both use the same tired literature put out by the convention (Southern Baptist Convention) which is, mostly, the same lessons regurgitated year after year, but I digress.  These are both the tools of the church to instill their dogma in the people.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2010 11:48 am

    Thanks for writing this, TSA. Your experiences have a lot in common with mine. I definitely overcompensated to the extreme :-|

    • October 12, 2010 1:04 pm

      Ha, I hadn’t realized that I am also the Transportation Security Administration!

      Thanks for joining me here, though!

  2. KimchiGUN permalink
    October 22, 2010 12:54 pm

    Good Read, thanks!!

  3. Zarina permalink
    December 7, 2010 3:33 pm

    Hey Secret Athiest, you have a great writing style, thanks for discussing!!
    I struggle with definitions of words like faith and believe, just a question, when you were a child, what did belief feel like? Just like a fact? As in the sky is blue and Jesus was real and water is wet. Or did it feel mystical and empowering?
    I often wonder, when someone says they “believed in God” as a child, do they mean they just understood God as a fact that turned out to be false later? Or is there a difference in how it feels inside between believing some observable fact and believeing in a god?
    How does one define belief and faith?????

    • December 7, 2010 8:00 pm

      As a child it was a fact, to me. My parents and every adult in my life told me it was true and I believed it.

      When I was a bit older I did have moments where it felt spiritual, transcendent, mystical. But I do not trust such experiences as our minds are too easily fooled by our senses and emotions. Also, I’ve since had such experiences apart from religion.

      To me, a belief is something that you think to be true. Faith is believing in something without and proof.

      Also, thanks for the comment on my writing! I often wonder how much sense I make, I tend to not do a lot of editing and proofing and sometimes I ramble a bit much. :)

  4. December 28, 2010 1:46 pm

    I was in a discipleship school, similar to your Training Union. I’m still “figuring it all out” now that I’m in the real world, so I’m happy to find your site.

    It seems Discipleship schools and programs are on the rise, and they’re very dangerous in my opinion. Not only because they instill destructive dogma and ideas into people, but the one I was in (and many like it) recruit young adults out of high school and they become slaves to the church.

    Is there anything we can do about preventing these from abusing young adults? They call them internships, but they’re not. I worked for over 80 hours a week from ages 17-24 for less than 50 cents a day in this discipleship program.

    • December 28, 2010 4:36 pm

      Hi Lisa, glad you found my blog!

      Thankfully, the program I’m talking about isn’t quite what you are describing. It was just another meeting time like Sunday School (usually held on Sunday nights, sometimes on Wednesdays instead) that usually focused a bit deeper on Bible study than the Sunday School lessons. The SBC’s publisher, Lifeway, still publishes multiple series of literature for Discipleship Training (the revamped name for Training Union). It generally only involves an hour lesson/study once a week.

      It actually has been on the decline in the Southern Baptist church. SBC churches have historically met three times a week: twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday night. Sunday included Sunday School and a worship service in the morning, and then Training Union (now called Discipleship Training) and a worship service at night. Wednesday night usually included a prayer meeting and Bible study for the adults and the “scouting” mission activities for kids and music activities for kids.

      These days many churches have abandoned or cut back the second meeting on Sunday and scaled back the Wednesday activities as well. Discipleship Training, if it still happens, is mostly just another Bible study these days.

      And even in the churches that still maintain the old schedule (the one I’m a minister at is one of those) attendance is far lower in the meetings other than Sunday morning.

      Now, what you described does sound like a program that the SBC’s student ministry operates in conjunction with the two mission organizations (the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board ) that recruits college students to spend summers doing mission work, and recruits fresh college grads to spend a couple of years overseas doing mission work. I don’t remember what sort of monetary compensation there was, but it was mostly just enough to support their living for the months while on assignment.

      • January 3, 2011 9:47 pm

        I’m glad I found your blog, too. I blog about my time there, but my entire community is still very fundamentalist and close-minded. I need to get out and find a community that’s not. :)

        I’m sure there was no monetary compensation (or little) in the SBC’s student ministry organization. In fact, I’ve been meeting more and more people associated with these types of schools/programs that have gone through a lot of abuse and were treated really unethically. I like to call it modern day slavery. I’m on the search for a good lawyer or maybe someone to help me write up some legislation, but that will all take several months and lots of money. Wish me luck!

  5. April 3, 2011 6:00 pm

    Takes a lot of courage to admit these doubts – even to yourself! I remember when I first thought that the Bible might not be true and that it was possible God might not exist – I felt so guilty I repeated “I love you Jesus” in head for an hour to make up for the awful thoughts! It is definitely a process to un-indoctrinate yourself.

    • April 3, 2011 8:41 pm

      I spent quite a lot of time over the past 15 years praying for forgiveness for my disbelief, begging god to make himself real to me, praying that god would change my heart and mind so that I could believe, and just trying as hard as I could to make myself believe.

      The past year has been incredibly freeing, not having to worry about those things anymore.

      Thanks for the comment and for reading my blog, youngatheist!

  6. August 8, 2011 1:19 pm

    Thank you very much for putting this blog together. It’s good to know that I’m not alone out there. Having recently come to the same conclusion, I now start a new adventure as an atheist in a christian environment. I have a wife of 21 years, 3 teens and a network of christian friends and no immediate “flesh and blood” persons to discuss this with.

    I just created my first blog ever called “Jesus Evicted” to better gather my thoughts / feelings and to communicate with fellow ‘true-unbelievers”. Please add me to your link.

    Thank you,

    • August 12, 2011 4:29 am

      Thanks for stopping by, I’m glad that you found my blog (and I hope to get some new content up soon) and I’ll check yours out for sure!

  7. _Taz permalink
    September 3, 2011 1:57 pm

    I also began my doubting period (more like enlightenment period) during my sophomore years, though in my case it was Islam.

  8. TSAFollower permalink
    March 12, 2012 10:17 pm

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. I was interested in contacting you because I am in a somewhat similar situation.

    • March 16, 2012 2:07 am

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the posts, I hope they help you with your own situation. Feel free to e-mail me (the secret atheist at hotmail dot com, no spaces) if you want to talk some.

  9. November 19, 2012 9:59 pm

    I am a former Atheist who is interfacing with a person of my former persuasion. It is very interesting. I decided to ask the Atheist/Naturalist community a question on my blog – my most recent post – that I would like to get some responses to. I’m not getting very many responses to my question, so this is why I’m reaching out and requesting some.

    • November 22, 2012 2:38 am

      A link to your blog would help me greatly in answering your question.

      • November 22, 2012 8:42 am or just click on my name that the top of my Reply

        • February 24, 2013 2:13 pm

          Sorry it took me so long, I’ve not really bee paying attention to this blog for a few months. If you’re still interested in my answer, please provide me a link to the exact post you are referring to I will consider answering your question. I’m not going to search through the entire backlog of posts to find it.

  10. Sam permalink
    November 29, 2013 12:37 pm

    Hey Secret Atheist. I am in college, was born in a Christian home, went to a Christian school, basically have a story similar to yours. For the past 5 years or so, I have been driving myself crazy wondering if God is real or not. I feel intense guilt walking away from it, but the cognitive dissonance I am experiencing is crazy. It has, in part, contributed to depression in the last few years.
    I guess the main thing I struggle with, is that when I believed it whole heartedly as a child, I really had strong feelings of love and happiness, and now I don’t have those anymore. Maybe those can just be attributed to childhood, I don’t know. In my mind I still feel like God is love, and without him, I don’t know how to feel the same. There are a lot of verses in the Bible that reading them empower this sense of love, which is obviously a good thing. I wanted to ask you, and I think you will answer honestly, do you still have a strong sense of love for others now that you are an atheist, and that feeling of purpose? I know atheists can feel love, I just look at my Christian friends and I see their love as stronger. I feel torn between the two options, the more rational one, or the more feeling one.

    • December 5, 2013 4:14 pm

      I’ve never felt like I was unable to love because of my unbelief. Perhaps it is the strange way I transitioned out of my faith–leaving behind my beliefs without realizing it, waking up one day to realize that I no longer believed, and the world still turned.

      I would imagine you are still dealing with a lot of the baggage of your religion right now, and that could be making it seem as if you are unable to feel happiness, joy, and love. It could be that you were told for so many years that it is impossible to feel these things without god that some part of you still thinks that to be true. I hope that as you continue to get rid of the emotional baggage religion has left you with you’ll be able to find joy in life, and not in god.

      I thought about you today when I was listening to last week’s Dogma Debate. The part I’m talking about starts at the 35 minute mark and goes to about the 50 minute mark, you can skip right to it if you don’t want to have to listen to the whole episode. David has been collecting money through Dogma Debate for about the past month to help feed senior citizens at a local senior center, and just listening to the excitement in his and Rachel’s voices as they talk about the great outpouring of support from listeners is proof that atheists are more than capable of love, caring, and joy.

      You may want to check out Recovering from Religion for resources on how to transition out of your religion, and how to be happy with the life we have, or you may want to seek out a therapist through their Secular Therapist Project.


  1. My story, continued « The Secret Atheist
  2. “I became one of those hated liberals…” « The Secret Atheist
  3. I wonder where this will go… « The Secret Atheist
  4. Welcome! « The Secret Atheist
  5. The Anniversery of My Unbelief (sort of) « The Secret Atheist
  6. Stuck in the Middle With You? | Bridget Owens

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