My life, my viewpoint and my stance are all radically different than anything I had previously anticipated. Religion, Christianity, and Christian service were my stance and my viewpoint from the very earliest age. I thought that there was for me no other. Until rather recently, there was no consideration of any other.
For some odd reason, my inclination from childhood was toward religion. I received no parental push or other like pressure to be in church. My parents did not attend church except sparodically. Yet, I wanted to be in church and Sunday School even my parents did not attend.
I found out in the fifth grade all my sisters had been baptized as a baby but I was not. I was afraid that I was unpleasing to God and would be sent to hell. Upon my insistance, I was one of the few who was baptized by sprinkling outside of infancy in that church.
I always wanted to develop a relationship with God. When I was about 10-11, I remember that I received a sunday school pamplet about prayer. I understood it to say that if you wanted to talk to God all you had to do was ask to talk to him. As a child, that was taken to mean that I could have a direct conversation with the Creator of the Universe if I but asked. A holy light, I thought , would come down upon me as I would stand directly in his presence. I was scared to death but I decided to do it anyway. I prayed and asked to talk to God directly. Suprisingly or maybe in retrospect not suprisingly, there came no voice, no response except the silence. Part of me felt relief for fear of disturbing a mighty God and making him angry at having been bothered by someone so miniscule as a young child.
In seventh grade, I was invited to the Christian Church in my town by a friend. I soon started reading the Bible for myself and found that as the Christian Church taught I needed to be baptized by immersion. Thus, at age 12 baptism two now by immersion. I felt my life totally change. I wanted to be at every church service. I lead my entire family to be baptized. I read my Bible every day. I brought my Bible to school every day. I witnessed to my classmates. I lead some to say the sinners prayer. I wore Jesus T-shirts to school. I was consistently made fun of (rightly so) for my faith. But at that time, I thought that I had decided where my life was going for the rest of my time on earth. I was not only going to be a life long Christian, but also a minister .
As a result, I preached my first sermon in the eighth grade and preached 2-5 times a year until my high school graduation. I entered the preaching category in the Talent Rally at an area Bible College and placed high year after year. In addition, I was the "star" member of my local church's Bible quiz team which competed in area and national tournaments.
Immediately upon graduation, my course was set directly for bible college at Lincoln Christian College. My desire was to excell in my knowledge of the Bible so that I could help others know God. Throughout my 4 years, I was active serving in churches teaching and preaching. I also helped lead student spiritual life both in the dorm and on the campus as a whole. At the conclusion, I earned a BA degree in preaching ministries. Capping off my undergraduate studies, I did summer mission work in Eastern Europe.
But that was not enough. I decided that I needed to study the Bible and world views on a deeper level. Thus the next four years were spent studying theology and philosophy under Dr. James Strauss at Lincoln Christian Seminary. Under his tutelege, I was excited to learn that non-Christian worldviews could be critiqued on the level of assumptions and could be shown to be not only tenable but absurd. I was not his most insightful student. But I worked very hard and grew in my ability to philosophically analyze arguments.
During this time, I was the full time preaching minister of a small church in nothern Illinois. It was a very hard and lonely experience. But it never once caused me to question whether there was a God who was directing my life. Rather, I decided that leadership ministry was not my calling but the teaching ministry was.
Thus after graduation, I moved to Milwaukee, WI to work toward a Ph.D. in philosophy at Marquette University and eventually become a Bible college professor. During this time, my path crossed with John Loftus who was studying theology. But being from a small town, my life began to unwind in such a big city. Even though my financee was with me, I had never been without a support system in such an overwhelming manner. I began to feel that I was drifting away from God.
In an overwhelmed and depressed state, I was invited to a Bible study by a member of the Milwaukee Church of Christ, a church in the semi-cultic Boston Movement. They provided me with immediate friends, supposed support and renewal of my faith to what I thought was a higher level. Stupidly, I allowed them to convince me that I never had been a Christian prior to that point. Thus I needed to be baptized........again: Baptism #3. I was taught to be totally sold out to God. And I truly wanted to be. This included mandatory attendance at all service, mandatory sacrificial tithing, mandatory annual special contribution 15-24 times regular week contribution, mandatory daily "shairing your faith,"-every day at all hours on the street/door steps/evangelistic Bible studies. All areas of life were authoritarianly dictated, including the number of times you had sex with your wife each week. My education was sneered upon and I was shamed into quitting Marquette University. In this church, Bible knowlege and my teaching skills were counted as nothing. As a seminary graduate, I was allowed to teach only a few times. Every member was supposed to work toward advancing in leadership rank with the ultimate goal of becoming a church evangelist. Since my wife was not deemed to be leadership material, I was relegated to the lowest level. One leader in the church once came up to me and said" you'll never be a leader."
You may ask, " Stupid, why did you stay? Why did you waste your life by letting one year become two and then become 16 years?" I do not have a good answer. Simply the Bible as I interpreted with the subtle coercion of the church convinced me that my marriage would fall apart and that I would go to hell if I left that church. Foolish man that I am. I allowed them to close my mind. I gave up my dream, my education and my self worth to be controlled by a pontificating fool. I tried to convince John Loftus to join the church but he was much smarter than I and rejected the invitation to the absurd.
Year after year, I felt myself sinking into dark hole of which there was no escape. Where was the support? There was none to be found. Where was God? He was not to be found. My prayers were but wisps of air, without substance. Prayer was but talking to myself or maybe to a dark abyss. I spent an entire year in the gloom of depression with thoughts of suicide never far from my mind. Only the successful suicide of another member of the church shook me and maybe saved me from my own.
In 2003, the entire ICOC Boston Movement authority structure collapsed. People started to leave the church in grooves. I however, decided to renew my faith and help steer the church in whatever way I could back to a truer foundation based on the Bible. I teemed up with a fellow Lincoln Christian Seminary graduate in the church and began writing theologically accessible but still in depth papers to more accurately define what God expects his disciples to be like. Since the authority structure had collapsed, people in the church were begging to taught in depth from the Bible. I was asked to preach in Sunday service from time to time. I taught series of classes on how to study the Bible using correct hermenuetics. I still upheld the verbal inspiration of scripture and taught that the Bible could be apolegetically defended at every level.
I picked up my study again with a passion and began devouring books from the conservative perspective verciferously. I set up an elementary Greek class in my church so that others could be trained to interpret the Bible using proper tools. As many as twelve were enrolled at one time. (I am still teaching one man every other week and have progressed him to the level of intermediate Greek.) I thought that now ,finally, once again, I could go forward and deepen my life with God and help others to do likewise. I even enrolled temporarily in the Doctor of Arts program at Trinity Theological Seminary.
Little did I know that this renewed desire would lead to its own demise. In my desire to know God better, I decided to study the Bible in depth in an organized and coordinated manner over a period of many months. Though I had studied the Bible for over 30 years, I had never undertaken such a coordinated effort.
I can say without hesistation that a solid path to atheism can be found in an intelligent coordinated, systematic, and critical study of the Bible.
Continued, Part 2