Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How To Save An Athiest

I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined I would become an atheist.  Growing up in a Christian church/cult, as a pastor’s son, I was certain I was destined for the ministry or something “important” in God’s Big Plan because I was also a member of God’s “one and only true church.” I never questioned my salvation. And when my faith in God went away and I became an atheist, I never worried about my salvation either. In fact, I am quite confident that if there is a God and a “Final Judgement,” I will pass God’s entry requirements for Eternal Life with flying colors.  But the standards that I believe one must meet in order to attain the “ultimate reward” of eternal life have changed dramatically. I know it may seem odd having an atheist tell you he knows how to gain salvation, but stick with me — your “higher power” may be revealing “new truth” that you need to hear.

In the church/cult that I was raised in (the Worldwide Church of God aka Armstrongism), we thought we were God’s “elect” — the ones chosen to “spread the gospel.” And what was that gospel?  It wasn’t the traditional gospel of evangelical Christians. In fact, we scoffed at the idea that all you had to do was believe Jesus Christ died for your sins to be saved. How silly! We knew better than that!  God expected “his people” to not just profess faith in Christ and become baptized, you had to also keep the Saturday Sabbath by resting and not working, you had to observe the Old Testament holy days, keep the Jewish food laws (even though we weren’t Jewish) which meant no pork, bacon, lobster, crab, catfish, etc. We were require to tithe 20-30% of our gross income every year and send in donations (offerings) on top of it.  No Christmas, Easter, Halloween or birthday celebrations — those were all of Satan’s world. Medical intervention was seen as wrong and a lack of faith, particularly in the early years of the church. People let their children and loved ones die from curable illnesses because they believed God would be displeased if they looked to doctors for help.  The list of crazy rules goes on and on and on. The sacrifices people made in our church to be “okay with God” — to gain salvation and eternal life were significant — far greater than your everyday church-goer.  The sacrifices people made in our church would be unimaginable to most. Relatively few in this world have worked harder or sacrificed more for their salvation than the members of our church.

But then our church changed. And the changes were so fundamental and so unprecedented, even outside “cult-watching groups” and Christian leaders declared the transformation historical, unprecedented.  No cult or church has ever done what our church did. In one fell swoop, the church tossed most all of its beliefs out as “legalism” and “unnecessary” for salvation  The new leader of our church who had been handed the reigns by the founder before his passing, implemented these fundamental changes in 1995. While outside groups praised the WCG for transforming from a cult to an evangelical Christian church, more than 60% of the church’s 120,000 members left almost overnight.

The financial impact to the church would ultimately leave my father — who supported the doctrinal changes — jobless as a pastor after 35 years of service. He and my mother would pay a steep price for giving up legalism.  They could have held on to the list of rules, but they felt God was moving his church into “new truth.” Legalism is another word for the many rules you had to keep to “earn your salvation” which was also seen as a”free gift.”  That’s right, salvation was a free gift but it was not free. If you weren’t experiencing cognitive dissonance in our church — as I state in my book “Cults and Closets” — you weren’t paying attention.

I agreed with the changes the church was making and I stayed as well and then I watched my father lose the only livelihood he’s ever known. The dysfunction and identity crisis the church was now faced with after the big changes was something  I could no longer be a part of, so my new wife (who felt the same way) and I left to attend a “mainstream” Christian church that didn’t have all of the baggage and rules — a church that believed you were “saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.”
After a number of months we learned the church we had joined was not too different from the cult we left. They, too, had their set of “rules” for pleasing God. Doing the bare minimum to gain salvation — “faith alone in Jesus Christ”– wasn’t quite enough to be “okay with God” in the eyes of this church either. But I would learn most churches operate the same way: Here’s your list of rules; dishonor the list and there’s the door.

While attending this new church, I was now into my second year of marriage to my wife, who I had met in the church when I was 13. My dad was the pastor of the congregation her family attended.  Because of the social dysfunction I felt I had experienced growing up, I could not wrap my head around the idea that I might be gay, even though my sexual thoughts almost never had anything to do with girls.  Being gay in our church was no more an option than being a murderer or a pedophile. I thought the feelings I was having about guys was due to my messed up social life and feeling insecure around my male peers growing up. I figured I had “sexualized” my desire for more male friends.

I thought all those feelings would go away when I got married and started having sex with a woman like a “normal” person. Our church taught that premarital sex was wrong, so I was a virgin when I married. I figured God was allowing the thoughts in my head about guys to continue — despite my desperate prayers for him to remove them — because he was going to show his “power” and “plan” for me by removing those tormenting evil thoughts once I got married. He would reward my patience and virginity by removing the “gay.”  However, I still didn’t think it was “gay” he would be removing. I just thought it was “unnatural thoughts” I needed him to “straighten” out. That’s how deep in the closet of denial I was. Two years into my marriage, it became clear God had no interest in removing the feelings or thoughts and they only grew stronger and stronger. This, and the fundamental doctrinal changes in the church of my youth, triggered my “crisis of faith.”

Why would a loving Father and all-powerful God allow me — his “child” — to suffer and be tormented all those years and then NOT help me overcome these “obvious” evil thoughts about men once I got married. Something wasn’t adding up. For the first time in my life I was pissed off at God!

What kind of insane game was he playing with me?  Why, why, why would he put me through this torment?  In my book I share my “big prayer” to God. It was more about my “New Deal” with God and how I was tired of looking to others for answers about his apparent will for my life. I won’t share the prayer here but what I will say is that I truly laid out for God how I had tried so desperately hard to do his will — and I had followed that will — but he never kept his end of the bargain. It made no sense to me what was happening. Either God was playing a nasty, sinister, sickening trick on me or there was no God.

Over a period of time after my “big prayer” — not more than a year — it became clear to me that I no longer had a belief in God — I was an atheist. At least I no longer believed in the God of the Bible.  I still considered myself agnostic because I was afraid to believe that it was “safe” to rule out the existence of God. By calling myself an “agnostic atheist,” I could leave room for the potential existence of God and hopefully God would have mercy on me at any “final judgement” that may occur in the future. Call me crazy, but that’s how I was reasoning at the time.

But, I stopped worrying about God condemning me to “hell” at any final judgement, not because I proved God does not exist. You can not prove a negative. I can be no more sure there is no God than I can be sure there are no magical purple ponies living in another galaxy.  The reason I stopped worrying about missing the boat of salvation is the same reason I believe most of the religious — even the judgmental ones — and, DEFINITELY, most atheist and non-believers don’t need to worry about it. And again, it’s not because I believe there is no God and, therefore, no Judgement Day. Hang with me here.

The reason I don’t fear God’s final judgement is because I believe that IF there is a God — an all-knowing, all-loving being — he knows my heart. And he knows yours too. And I think most of us have good hearts. I may not know your heart, but there is nothing I know better than my own heart. I know what my intentions have been from the very beginning. I know how hard I sought a relationship with God and Jesus Christ. I know how I cried myself to sleep at night, begging God to take away the “evil and unnatural” thoughts in my head. I know during my “crisis of faith” how desperately I sought answers and begged God to lead my path.

Read the entire article here: Cults and Closets, How An Atheist Can Be Saved


DennisCDiehl said...

Very nice and very well expressed. Everyone wears masks I my view and experience. I certainly did. The cause is group think and compliance as opposed to following one's heart and path. Sitting before the facts as a little child no matter where it takes you and all that.

I don't believe in the cultic God of the Bible. If there is one, he is much bigger minded and not "a jealous God" at all. He/She does not put one group over another and there are no chosen people...just people.

I would think a real God would need neither money nor sacrfices, animal or human. It would not need blood to cover shortcomings however one defines them.

I think we are all one small part of one bigger consciousness. Whatever that means. We are consciousness experiencing itself through five limited senses...for now perhaps. I don't know.

Perhaps one can't learn grace without seeing how stupid and divisive law can be in orgaizations and how much arguing and division it can cause.

Anyway...nice expression of your story Troy.

Corky said...

True salvation is being saved from the "God" of the Bible, not being saved by the "God" of the Bible.

But, some folks may point out that being saved "from" the God of the Bible is being saved "by" the God of the Bible.

Yep, if you're a believer, you have to be saved from the same person who is out to kill you unless you let him save you.

Ziiiing, I know that went right over the head of some folks. That's because they have learned to love the person holding them captive by the threat of eternal punishment. Some call it the Stockholm Syndrome, I don't, I call it being willfully ignorant.

Allen C. Dexter said...

Troy, that was outstanding! I don't care whether you are gay or not, and I'm sure any god worthy of any respect wouldn't either.

I went through the stage you are in of being a agnostic atheist. I'm now an anti-theist full blown atheist. I, too, wrote a book while I was in the agnostic mindset about 15 years ago now. It's available free on the website.

Today, I fight my old deceived mindset every way I can on my blog and on Facebook. It takes up a major portion of every day.

Thanks for sharing. I'm going to in turn share it with my audience.

Anonymous said...

Corky: Congratulations! That is just what the god of this world, the evil one, wants to hear.

UT, The Reigning Being of Being Banned by Banned by HWA said...

Hey Troy,

Although I'm a Christian who is also anti-law, I wish I could make one law binding on all Believers. That law would require all Christians to read your account of how your beliefs evolved - as well as Corky's comment about the ridiculousness of seeking to be saved by the One you must be saved from.

I found your story to be instructional and inspirational. As a writer, you succeeded in depicting your emotions, your reasoning, and your resulting belief - all in a manner that draws the reader to connect to your struggle with empathy and perhaps with the ensuing gain of an eureka type of insight.

I wish I could similarly convey my belief that salvation is nothing about what we do or believe - but is all about what God did for us.

I think that if that If-God now answered your earlier prayers regarding changing your sexuality - you would not be too happy. Why? Because I'm guessing you are currently content with who you are. Crazy me - for I see all your naive prayers about sexuality have been answered affirmatively.

I agree with your point that the If-God, if He does indeed exist, must intimately know your heart.

However, I don't think you will be saved because your heart is good. Rather, I believe your heart is good because that rascally If-God made it good.

DennisCDiehl said...

compassion and understanding is the key. Everything else is bullshit

Byker Bob said...

We had an opportunity to discuss Troy's book and life experiences several weeks ago over at the Painful Truth Blog. Armstrongism is, like a greeting card, the gift that keeps on giving! It is good to have articulate insiders who can speak for the masses, rationally documenting what we all know happened within the movement.

Just in general, I believe that there is so much about human sexuality that is still not understood. What seems obvious is that sexuality doesn't lend itself to black and white categorization. Everybody has the aparatus to do everything to everybody, and people appear to be driven by both societal expectations and by their fetishes.

Probably, if they weren't bound by client confidentiality, we could learn much on this topic from Scientology Auditors. The confessions they hear are probably much deeper and more graphic than those heard by RC priests, or secular therapists. Complete disclosure is required. Perhaps, one day, one of them will write a book.


Head Usher said...

Reminds me of my own deconversion. I obviously didn't have the holy spirit, and god wasn't willing to allow me to find him. That meant in the best-case scenario, god had never considered me first resurrection material to begin with. Possible scenarios went downhill from there.

Everyone who’s a xian has to believe god welcomes everyone who is inclined towards him. Plenty of scriptures can be used to support that idea by pastors trying to get their collection plates filled. But there's also plenty of scriptures supporting the opposite. "Narrow is the gate and few are they who find it." "Many are called, but few are chosen." "No one can come to me except the father draw him."

This is a central tension of the bible that I've never heard anyone address. Does god welcome the teeming, huddled masses yearning to breathe free who arrive upon his golden shore? Or is he picky, denying citizenship to the vast majority who petition for it? In Armstrongism, they teach he's picky at first, and welcoming on the second go-round.

But Armstrongism has always been focused exclusively on the first resurrection. The second resurrection is a "do-over," for the wretched refuse (like me) who god didn’t see fit to give an opportunity initially. So Armstrongism has always been double-minded about whether god is welcoming or picky in this age. On the one hand, ministers needed to give people hope that members can be acceptable to god, so they can talk about Jesus' sacrifice, forgiveness, and ultimately his merciful judgment (although not "grace"). People aren't going to stick around if you start off by telling prospective converts the odds of god "choosing" you right now are insignifican, so you're probably wasting your time trying to become a xian. But on the other hand, they need to invoke the scriptures about god's selectivity to create the aura of a "special people." You need to bring up how even the most righteous are "scarcely saved" in order to keep people trying as hard as possible to obey "god's anointed representatives." You need to keep reminding them how difficult it is for camels to pass through the eyes of needles, to keep them unburdening themselves of the things that make them "rich men."

If I never received the holy spirit in the first place, then obviously I was never eligible for the first resurrection. It's a fruitless endeavor spending your whole life trying to be a “firstfruit” when you're obviously not. If the father decided not to draw me, who am I to tell him he's wrong? Just because I want something doesn't mean I'm going to get it. Being ineligible for salvation, how much did I have to lose by deconverting? The outcome is the same either way. Hey, if my time is not now. I'll get my chance later, right?

Eh, maybe. Armstrongism always gave the impression that only supermen are eligible for salvation anyway. Who is Abraham if not a Hebraic superman, who's got a red robe instead of a red cape? Could Abraham fly? Probably. And what happens if god didn't make you superman, like he made all those biblical characters supermen? Well, then you're SOL. So there I am. I'm at the station, but I don't have a ticket to ride. Do I care?

And what happens if I get to the "do-over" and I'm still not superman? Sheesh. I give up. What's the point? How do I know the game isn't fixed? I don't want to play anymore. If I'm not eligible for salvation, how bad is the alternative? In Armstrongism, it's not actually that bad. So, I'm alright with not being saved. If I can't be saved, maybe that's okay.

Of course it's also possible that I couldn't find god and didn't receive the holy spirit because xianity is all bogus. Either way everything works out exactly the same. Why does there have to be something wrong with that?

Anonymous said...

"I don't believe in the cultic God of the Bible."

Bible-god certainly is rather anthropomorphic, having the likeness of man as well as some of the worst of human proclivities, such as the need for adulation, jealousness, the need for obedient followers, having an extreme hard-on for enemies, warmongering, having dizzying awesome superpowers, being better than any other beings ever anywhere, having blood-lust, having extreme powers of retribution, etc etc etc.

Clearly, this god is of human construct, by and for those who claim to to know him and his wants, and want to lord it over others to control them.

Not in RCG anymore said...

What a story. I'm so glad you followed your heart to do what is right for you. Very inspiring. Truly, I and many who come and participate in this blog do sympathize with you.

The issue of sexuality among religious cults seems to be a big one, as it was one of the deciding factors among many for my recent leave from RCG a couple months ago. Having "bad and unnatural thoughts" was a huge "problem" I and no doubt many other young people who were/are in the COGs went and are going through the same unnecessary struggle. I am almost thirty years old and I had to deal with such lunacy, so imagine a teenager in a COG must be going bonkers with their hormones raging but having no outlet. Miserable times.

Yet, just like this author, I felt that if I waited for the right girl in the church and married her, my sexually illicit thoughts would be taken away by God. The more I prayed about my "problem", the worse the thoughts became. Not much hope for someone who can only choose a woman who was attending the church and baptized. I remember meeting girls "in the world" and thinking to myself, "Well, she's a really nice girl. I'd date her, but I can't". Wasted opportunities.

"compassion and understanding is the key. Everything else is bullshit"

Right on, Dennis. The wonderful thing about going through the "hell" of being a member of RCG then coming out was that I finally realized the difference between religion and spirituality. I had always heard people say that there is a difference, but I never gave it too much thought. I feel like my "third eye" has been opening more and more since I left. After leaving a legalistic group that constantly berates you with protocol, etiquette, threats that you're going to the lake of fire, and the "us vs them" mentality, I learned one great and powerful thing - love.

I just got tired of hating "the world". Were gay people bothering me? No. They weren't hurting anyone as far as I could see. In fact, I know many gay individuals who are wonderful to be around. Were the potheads bothering me? Nope. I actually have had many good conversations with such people. Were women who sported short hair bothering me? Of course not! Who the $*%& cares! I think you get the point.

Throughout my life I have never usually had a problem getting along with many different kinds of people, and to me that is what makes life fun and interesting. So why did I join a legalistic and severely exclusive group? Ego, pride, jealousy, and narcissism. "I have something awesome and others don't know what it is! Everyone else in the world is below me because they'll be worshipping me as God in the Kingdom!" is the mentality.

From my experience and observations, the COGs teach a sugar coated version of hatred and intolerance.

The ironic thing is that during my time in RCG they would preach about having the "peace of God", the "love of God", and the "mercy of God", while I would have dealings with "worldly" people who truly had more peace and serenity than any self-proclaimed apostle, minister, or lay member of any COG that I knew. I would look at the "people of the world" that I knew and realized that even though they were "sinners" and "unconverted" they were much happier than I was by a long shot.

Anonymous said...

DD Said: “Compassion and understanding is the key”

What does the key that is compassion and understanding unlock?

Compassion is the deep feeling of sharing the suffering the suffering of another, together with the inclination to give and or support or to show mercy.

Understanding is to perceive and comprehend the nature and significance or to know something.

In what way does our compassion and understanding change the lives of those who have experienced the trauma of a lost of faith? In most of the situations I have dealt with the loss of faith was due to the influence of other human beings and not a personal understanding what the biblical stories are designed to communicate.

I recognize that the abusive use of god and religion can contribute to emotional difficulties that can cause both mental and physical health problems, but there is also a spiritual side of life that senses there is a right and wrong in human behavior.

While we would all like to do what is right there are times when we make wrong choices. It is these wrong choices that create the damage. Ideally when we make these wrong choices we should make a radical transformation in our thoughts and actions that will blot out the past and focus on building a new life for the future. Realistically it is not that easy without external help, but can this help come from another human being? I cannot answer that for anyone else, but in most cases the help must have a spiritual source

To me this is the simple explanation of the biblical purpose of human life.

A. Boocher

UT, The Reigning Being of Being Banned by Banned by HWA said...

Head Usher,

Christianity is replete with apparent contradictions.

Rapacious Armstrongism favors some scriptures while ignoring others - whatever's best for their bottom line.

Armstrongism is sweet on the narrow gate concept that only allows entrance for them but sneers at the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the WORLD.

Christians can harmonize the two concepts in the belief that Jesus is that narrow gate who takes away the sin of all.

Armstrongism is big on all the ways you could lose salvation while most Christians believe your salvation is sealed once and for all - even if you do deconvert.

Anonymous said...

Not one of any of this blog's commentaters will be alive 100 years from now, yet we think our petty points of view supercede the Bible, which has and will continue to be around for thousands of years???

We were born knowing nothing, yet we declare that there is no God, despite the fact that we wouldn't last a month without the food and water that has existed continually without even the most rudimentary contribution from the vast majority of us?

We humans make these grand declarations as if we can actually sustain our own lives when in reality every one of us is just one breath away from being maggot food!!!

Human nature is at least delusional if not functionality insane...

Jace said...

we declare that there is no God, despite the fact that we wouldn't last a month without the food and water that has existed continually without even the most rudimentary contribution from the vast majority of us?"

I suppose you also believe that your god created the banana to perfectly fit the human hand, eh?

Anonymous said...

The fact that the female elephant, a four legged animal, has teets at the front legs instead of the conventional way that large four legged mammals do, implies reasoning & purposeful design.

Troy Fitzgerald said...

Thanks to everyone for the kind words about my article and book. I thought I had posted this a few days back, but it didn't get through. I greatly appreciate all the words of support and encouragement.