Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Guest Post: Living a Double Life

The following post was written by Sheldon Cooper, who blogs at the Ramblings of Sheldon. According to his bio, "Sheldon was born into a fundamentalist Christian family. He made his profession of faith at only five years old and went to a Southern Baptist College for a year where he worked on a Biblical Studies minor. A crisis of faith lead him away from Christianity back in 2010 and around 2011 he began to consider himself Agnostic."

It’s another Sunday morning in the St. Louis area. I wake up, get in my vehicle and drive to a church, and walk in the door. An elderly deacon hands me the church bulletin for the week, and gives the perfunctory and expected greetings.

I walk into the sanctuary where I am surrounded by people, some of which have known me since I was 12 years old, and sit down.

The praise band sings, the pastor gets up to give the sermon, it’s all a very familiar experience for millions of Christian people around the country. There’s a big difference here though between me and the people seated all around me

I’m not one of them. I don’t believe in Christianity anymore.

I was just like all the rest of them, maybe even more so. I believed from a very young age, made profession of faith at only 5 years old, baptized at 7. By the time I was 10 or 11, pastors were amazed that I could have discussions on advanced theology and Biblical subjects that quite frankly, most of the congregation either didn’t know, or had a hard time grasping.

I was always questioning, always wanting to learn more, and I think it was this curiosity that eventually lead me out of fundamentalism, but until this time I always wanted to know more, but only within the confines of what I already believed. As one of my favorite bloggers, Grundy of Deity Shmiety says, it’s it's hard to realize a counterpoint when all you've ever heard was point.

And I had heard plenty of point. From my elementary school experience in a school ran by a church that was a part of the Independent Fundamental Baptist organization, (they are a scary cult, I’m glad I left there in the 5th grade, I have an entire page on my blog dedicated to them), to my homeschooling until the 12th grade and spending my childhood/teen years in two different fundamentalist denominations, I was fully immersed in that world.

About 3 years ago, I gave it all up. After a nervous breakdown at college I was blamed for by family (it just “guilt”, you don’t have a “right relationship with god”), I believed those lies, and stating burying myself deeper into my faith.

Ironically, that’s what led me out of Christianity.

I started reading the Bible more, and what I read shocked me. It’s not as though I hadn’t read the more barbaric passages of the Bible before, such as the Old Testament law, the atrocities committed that were ordered by god (entire cities and tribes massacred by ancient Jewish troops), and even disturbing passages in the New Testament, like Paul condoning slavery.

Not reading it before wasn’t the problem, it was looking at it again without sticking my head in the sand about the reality that it represented, and not making excuses for it that started making me question god. Why is it that Jesus depicts in many ways a merciful, loving god (and modern Christianity tries to depict god this way), yet all of the Old Testament, and much of the New Testament (try reading the book of Revelation sometime), depicts the exact opposite?

Then I started truly seeing the suffering of this world and think that a loving. merciful god wouldn’t allow this to happen to people who didn’t do anything to deserve it. I soured completely on the idea of a the god of Christianity. I thought this might be a phase, I hoped it was, and that’s what some people I confided in led me to believe. It wasn’t.

I prayed for hours, hoping something would lead me back into Christianity. There was a sense of mourning, a loss of the very foundation of what I had built my life around for all these years. I simply did not want to leave Christianity, even as much as I was slipping away from it.

This is what convinced me that I truly was a dedicated Christian, despite what fundamentalists believe, if I wasn’t a “true believer”, then why was there so much confusion, guilt and grief involved ? If I never was the real deal, wouldn’t it have been easy for me to leave?

Eventually I knew, if I were to be honest with myself, and honest to who I really am, I had to convince myself that rejecting Christianity altogether was the right thing to do, it’s the only thing I could do in this situation.

After I left, I was shocked, shocked by what I was missing out on in life, by cutting myself off from the outside world, and I was shocked by the damage that fundamentalism causes in US society, depriving people like the LGBT community of their basic rights, the rampant abuse of children that goes on in fundamentalism. I was especially appalled at how many frightening cult groups that are out there, a fact I was made well aware of after researching my sister’s former church, which was a part of the Independent Fundamental Baptist organization after it’s pastor, Jack Schaap, plead guilty to sexual abuse charges. Seeing it all for the first time, with a new perspective can be overwhelming.

At least I knew where I stood, after some searching, trying to figure what I believed post-Christianity, and I even started my own blog, Ramblings of Sheldon, to talk about my past, and what I believe now, and I’ve had success unlike anything I would have ever dreamed of (an average of about 1.000 readers a week). The blog has helped me to confront my past, and move forward, it really has been “good therapy” like my blogging inspiration Godless Poutine, said it would be.

All was going OK, but a problem came up. Due to a change in work schedule, I couldn’t use work as an convenient way out of attending church, and if I didn’t attend, there would be many questions and rumors. Call me a coward if you will, but some personal circumstances make it rather impossible for me to come out as an agnostic right now, it will be at least a year before I can start making major changes like that, I’m not ready. for that at this point in my life.

My only other alternative was to go undercover, and that I have done, I’ve blended into the world of fundamentalism, and only have told a few people about my loss of faith. It’s not a comfortable place to be, stuck between 2 worlds, torn between delusion and reality, but that’s where I am, it’s frustrating. It turned out to be a unique opportunity though. I’ve always thought that there’s been a big disconnect between those in the skeptical community who have never experienced fundamentalism personally, and those who know it all too well, that many in the first group do not understand what being raised fundamentalist is like, or how the fundamentalist mindset works, or what it’s isolated culture is like.

I have started writing about my experiences inside fundamentalism in my blog series, Undercover Agnostic. I want to show people who may have never had this experience of living through it, what fundamentalism looks like from the inside. I want to show people the fundamentalist mindset and culture from someone who sees it personally, day to day.

I hope that my series gives people a new understanding of this world, and that maybe something good can come of the position I currently find myself in.

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