Featured on Why Evolution is True

Well, yesterday didn’t turn out as I expected.

I’ve been following Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True blog for a couple of years, so I know he likes to receive reader input on occasion. He had recently posted a link to a video on a child interacting with a gorilla at a zoo (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/so-human-in-aspect/) so I decided to send him this photo of me as a child interacting with a monkey in Zambia. Jerry responded very quickly and asked if I knew the species, I didn’t, but a quick search seemed to identify it as a Blue Monkey.

34 - Matthew with Bungy

I also gave Jerry a little detail about the circumstances of my family being in Zambia and why I was following his blog. Jerry immediately showed an interest in my story and asked for more detail. The result was a rapid brain dump of my experience of leaving my faith and a post on his blog (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/leaving-faith-behind-a-readers-story/).

I am touched that Jerry thought my story worth telling and I fear that I have not given the it justice. There is much to tell and it is impossible to make it succinct.

One thing that did become clear to me during my exchange with Jerry is that it has been far more emotional than I normally acknowledge. Not because of leaving the faith but because of the change in dynamics between those I love and call friends. It’s not that I am judged (at least I am not aware that I am) and it’s not that I am rejected (I’m not), it’s simply that on a basic level all my emotional interactions have changed and not always in an obvious way. Mostly it is in deeply subtle ways and it takes a long time to notice.

As I hint in my piece for Jerry, I waver constantly in my attitude towards Christianity and over the years this has taken its toll too. This is stuff I need to process to make sense of. I’ve made the intellectual journey, that was easy; the harder part is now sifting through the results and I’m clearly not done there yet.

That said; I’d like to thank Jerry for his interest and his kind offer to tell my story, it is appreciated. I’d also like to thank those who have come here from Jerry’s blog, the spike in visits has eclipsed my previous best day by a significant factor. I predicted 100x but I think it’s actually more like 50x. I have also gained some new subscribers, so thank you to you too.

I am now off to read the comments on Jerry’s post, I suspect I’m in for some serious limey loving.

Coming Out – part 2

Having started to admit that Christianity no longer meant anything to me (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-coming-out-begins/). I decided that I should be open with those who know me differently. That is the internet form of people I have known for most of the last decade and who view me as the tolerant Christian. I do my best to avoid discussions on religion with this group because it never goes especially well, and quite frankly, they have always been my world away from my religion (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/when-friends-are-unkind/).

So, about a week after the discussion with my wife detailed above I put a short post up that basically said it was official, there is no god. They all would know what I meant and if anyone wanted to know more they could ask.

The first responses were a mixture of surprise (the majority obviously did not expect it), interest in why and congratulations.

A few, who admitted to having been brought up in some form of Christian faith, wanted to know how I felt; was my world view shaken? Did I need someone to talk to? I was touched by this obvious care and concern, but it wasn’t needed. This was not a new thing to me; it was just new to them.

It was far easier to be fully open and honest with them than it was in my conversations earlier with my wife. Deep down I feel I am a cowardly let-down for not having been fully honest much earlier. I have tried to put into words my feelings and justifications for that but I have failed. I am simply unable to properly explain why.

Some of the friends asked for a reason for my apparent turnabout. I was succinct in my response, just saying that it was because of greater scientific understanding which removed the foundation of my faith. I hinted there was a fuller version of my story available but that I was not sure about making it open to them. No one objected to that, in fact they were very supportive of that stance and no one pushed further. It was enough for them to know, a debrief was not necessary.

So, for the moment this blog’s readership remains as those who are outside of the circle of those who know me. However, there is more than enough here for anyone who knows me to recognise me. If that happens and I am questioned that I shall admit it but I am currently holding off from actually telling anyone about it.

Actually, not quite true, I have told my brother it exists and he is interested in reading it, I’ve just not sent him the link yet. That aside, I have pondered on letting my atheist forum friends know about it, maybe I’ll let a couple of them know about it first. My hesitation is that doing so feels a bit like the boy trying to plug the leaking dyke with his finger. Once the water starts to seep through there is no stopping it.

Why is Santa such a Problem for Christians?

It was a long while after I became and adult that I first started to wonder about Father Christmas and what the Christian approach should be to the Santa myth. I think it wasn’t until I knew I was to become a parent that I really began to ponder it seriously.

What if my child draws a parallel between Santa and Jesus and concludes that they must both be in the same state, either real or myth? How do I make a distinction between them? These questions can only point to some sort of Cognitive Dissonance in the mind of the thinker.

I decided very quickly to be relaxed about it and face the questions as they came rather than to try and manipulate a position.

A modern problem?

As a child I never recall their being any issues about Santa. I knew from very young Santa was a myth, but a fun one and that Jesus and very real. The primary school I attended in Zambia always made a thing of giving all the children presents at the end of the school year and one of the fathers would always dress up as Santa and give out the presents. It was always fun guessing whose dad it was.

I don’t recall much of a Santa fuss at home though. We had stockings, but I don’t recall any pretence on there being a Santa. He wasn’t utterly ignored though, he was spoken about as though he existed, but it was always in tones that you knew were not really believed. Very much how I talk to my daughter about him really.

A few years back, I recall chatting with Christian friends about Santa and they were concerned about how to approach the issue and whether or not to reveal the myth and what to do about them telling school friends who might still believe.  It wasn’t a trivial issue, that’s for certain. One father in particular had a very real issue about the Santa Myth. He was a recent convert, married to a long time Christian wife. He had been a very fierce atheist and part of that atheism came from his realising as a child that Santa and company were a myth. As a result of all those childhood myths he rejected God too. His conversion was very emotional and he carried the fear that his children would follow the same path and him, so his view was tell them it’s a myth from the beginning and tone the whole Santa thing down.

My wife’s family has always had a Santa tradition and they have always had the concept of ‘tree presents’ small gifts that they always mark as from Santa to the family members. They are never anything fancy, those are the main gifts given from them. They enjoy that aspect of giving and I see no reason why it should be stopped, I take the view that it adds to the ‘magic’ of Christmas and does not in any way devalue whatever meaning one wishes to attach to the season.

The Unexpected Conversation

This year my daughter threw me a curve-ball. It was just her and me in the car and she started asking about why we bother with the pretence of Santa. I don’t know when it was that she worked out Santa wasn’t real, it certainly wasn’t this year, it been a couple of years at least. She is seven currently. She’s also known for a couple of years that the Tooth Fairy is just Mummy and Daddy pretending and she is okay with that. I suspect that when she twigged about the tooth fairy she also twigged about Santa; maybe she asked us at the time, I can’t actually remember.

Anyway, the point is, she knows and has done for some time. So she asked me directly, why bother when we know its bunk? Nothing like the directness of a child to catch you off guard!

I asked her to expand.

Her thinking seemed to be that it was silly to put up all the pretence of there being a Father Christmas making and delivering presents when everyone knew that he wasn’t real. She makes a good point.

She didn’t seem to have a problem with the Santa themed decorations and cards, or even the story, it was the talking about him as though he really did do the things the story says he does that causes the problem for her. I tried to counter by saying that talking about Santa as if he were real adds to the ‘magic’ of Christmas and that Christmas would lose something if we didn’t have the fun pretending. She didn’t buy any of that at all. While she didn’t actually say it, I suspect she basically considers it lying and therefore not good.

Where does that leave Santa?

In this modern era of rationalism and proof, is there any place for Santa? I’m not just talking about Christians here, but everyone.

Personally, I am okay with the myth and I don’t mind the pretence and I think if you leave out Santa, you leave out an essential part of the Christmas tradition.

What about those poor disappointed kids who believe for years and get very disappointed when they discover they’ve been lied to? Well, the important thing there is to ask why the parents made it so real for so long. In our household its works out okay, Little Miss Limey hasn’t had an earth shattering shock and we’ve not tried to perpetrate the myth beyond credibility. If we’ve got the balance right its more by accident than design and so I can’t offer any formula.

Has he left the church? Should I go to see him?

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I were unhappy in our past church (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/there%E2%80%99s-a-problem-behind-the-pulpit/). This was one of the reasons for me no longer attending before we re-located to our lovely seaside location.

I knew that my non-attendance could never go unnoticed. I was wondering when the pastor would notice and if it would result in a visit. Despite the negative things I have said about him, he was very good at pastoral care, engaging and very sympathetic, also wise beyond his years on personal and emotional issues. He had proven to be a very real support and friend during Mum’s final years (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/death-of-a-much-loved-mother/) and previous to that, when I discovered a book about the farm my family lived on in Zambia which gave new details of Mum’s kidnap ordeal (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/coming-close-to-being-an-orphan/) he was also very supportive as the revelations brought fresh pain and memories of that most awful event.

So, when it was reported to me that the pastor had noticed my absence and had asked one of the church members responsible for pastoral care the above questions, I wasn’t surprised. However, said person is a close friend of my wife and I and my wife had confided in her many of our issues and concerns. So, on being asked these questions, said friend deflected and advised against coming to see me. I don’t know what exactly was said.

I understand the motives of said friend, but I think she advised wrongly.

I am fairly sure that if the pastor had followed his gut instinct and come to see me I would have shared my loss of faith with him. OR at the very least implied I was having difficulty with my faith.

Right up until we moved away, I pondered on visiting him to talk over my situation. I think he would have been a good ear, but I am not completely convinced he would have understood my reasoning. I also think there is a chance he may have tried to convince me I was wrong, which at that time, would have been the wrong thing to do. So I did the English thing and did nothing.

Death of a Much Loved Mother

There is so much I want to write and say about Mum, but little of it is relevant to the scope of this blog, which is the story of my Christianity and deconversion from it. However, Mum was a major influence on my life and the story of her life is a genuinely interesting one which I think could be told on its own. I often entertain the idea of attempting to write her story myself. She certainly deserves it.

Mum’s death from Pancreatic Cancer a little over three years ago had a huge impact on me and I am definitely not over it. Writing this blog entry will likely be the hardest one I do. Mum’s death also came at the time when my Christian faith died. The two are not related, one definitely did not cause the other, at least not for me.

“I can’t believe in a God who would let this happen to Mum”

Those are not my words, rather they are the words of my youngest brother. He said it to me while she was still alive. My brother lived with Mum (and our step-father) for the last three years of Mum’s life and saw the cancer slowly kill her. He cared for her daily, cooked for her and confided with her. During that time I watched my brother change into the man that he now is and it makes me immensely proud to be his brother.

Mum’s death affected him deeply too. We are both witness much of what Mum went through in Zambia, one small snippet is referred to here (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/coming-close-to-being-an-orphan/) and we are witnesses to her unending dignity, love and patience. In fact at her funeral, several people made references to this event where she was kidnapped from the farm we lived on and commented on how she responded to it.

My brother was far more damning about God in Mum’s final years than I was. He was blunt, if there was a God, then that would mean he watched Mum through her life serve Him and suffer greatly physically and mentally and still serve Him, and serve Him well. Then in her early 60s let her suffer and die with what is arguably the worst cancer you could get today. Surely such a woman deserved better from God and God should reward such service.

I could see my brother’s point, but I didn’t agree; despite my faltering faith I wasn’t going to buy into the argument that bad things happening to good people means there is no God. My brothers story is very different from mine and I wasn’t at all surprised by his reasoning. He’d long ago stopped living like a Christian and I figured his faith was long past rescuing. I think this experience for him was just a final nail in the coffin.

I couldn’t tell Mum about my loss of faith. I was still processing it myself and the acceptance of what was to come and the grief that followed complicated that somewhat. Would I tell her now if she was alive and well still? I don’t know. I did ponder on telling her but decided against it, given the circumstances I didn’t want to put the spiritual worries of another son onto her.

It wouldn’t be until some months after Mum’s funeral that I would tell my brother about my loss of faith.

 

 

Can a Christian Lose their Faith?

Well obviously yes, since I now call myself an atheist, having been a Christian for many years. Yet the answer is not at all that cut and dried.

I once had a discussion with a close friend of mine about this very question and we disagreed very strongly with no common ground at all.

I argued, that yes, one could lose their faith. One could come to the conclusion, for various reasons that they didn’t want to be a Christian any more and actively reject their old Christian life. Or one could ‘backslide’ as we called it in those days, and eventually fall away from faith.

My friend argued the opposite; that a Christian could not lose their faith. His argument was that the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian would be an active block against desertion of faith.

His point rang bells with me, because I had once held that view too.

As a young child at boarding school inZambia, I distinctly remember having discussions with school friends along the lines of ‘Once you are a Christian and God has you in the care of His hands, then He will never let go and you will always be a child of His’. I’m paraphrasing there, but the basic synopsis is that once you are a Christian, then its just not possible for you to unconvert. It’s a once only irreversible decision. I’m not sure where the original idea came from, but it was reinforced by the conversations that children have between each other on the playground.

Years later, here I am having this discussion again, but from a very different perspective. I wonder what had changed.

At the time we were both very definitely Christians. He is now a vicar and I am now this anonymous internet blogger spouting my stuff as if its important. He probably reaches more people weekly than I do.

What if I do it?

Anyway, during the conversation I posed the hypothetical suggestion that at some point in the future I would abandon my faith. Of course I knew it would never happen, but lets ignore that and just pretend it does, oh the irony!

My friend’s retort was that if that were to happen he’d question if I was a proper Christian to start with. Ouch!

But of course that would never happen because he knew I was a proper Christian.

I wonder how the conversation will go when (if?) he finds out about my change of heart. I guess for the moment I’ll just have to ponder, but eventually he’ll find out and I am a little bit curious as to how the conversation will go.

The Dramatic Deliverance

Okay, big post coming up…

It’s a bit of a tangent to my creationism story but since the details I am about to recount are part of that story I feel its important to tell it, even if I am a tad hesitant. I am still not absolutely certain how much detail to give, I’ll make that up as I go along, I am very happy to answer any questions that come up in the comments.

It all came about as a result of counselling. My relationship with my father was at an all time low and it was having a big effect on me. I carried a huge amount of baggage due to the divorce of my parents and I found it extremely difficult to make friends and maintain good relationships.

So, with some pestering, I went to a Christian counselling service. I can’t remember much of the detail of want went on in the sessions, but it was a very important outlet for me. I was able to talk about issues that affected me in an honest and frank way; which I have never done before.

The end of the counselling sessions happened to coincide with a special healing service at the church I attended. This was going to be a service which focused on the need for healing, in all the Christian senses, and would major on individuals receiving specific prayer. For practical purposes, this service would be held in the Church Hall and not in the much larger sanctuary, which was filled with rows of pews.

I remember little of the service itself, when the time came for the prayer ministry I went forward. I explained to the gentleman that would be praying with me that I had just been going through counselling for personal issues and that now it was over I wanted to dedicate it all to God, especially my relationship with my father.

If I had even had the remotest hint about what was going to happen that evening, I’d have probably stayed in my flat. What happened next would be a major event in my life and define my way of thinking for a long time to come.

The gentleman prayed for me in response to what I had just discussed with him and as he finished I toppled back and hit the floor; ‘Slain in the Spirit’ is a common phrased used to describe it when someone falls over after receiving prayer in those circumstances. Usually said person enters a relaxed state and is left on their own in peace, only being interrupted if they take too long to get up again and return to their seat.

For me it would be utterly different.

Instead of relaxing I started hyperventilating, this I didn’t expect. The hyperventilating gave way to unpleasant noises and an uncomfortable tingling sensation. Instead of peace fear started to build because now I had an idea of what was coming next and I really wasn’t ready for it at all.

Recognising what was happening; a couple of nearby prayers immediately crouched down next to me and started commanding demons to leave me. Some minutes later (I have no idea how long exactly), the woman who was one of the prayers light heartedly commented “well that’s got rid of half a dozen”. Immediately my throat contracted and I had to fight hard to control the urge to rebuke her directly with words along the lines of “Do not joke about such things”. I have no idea where that urge came from, because it was never in my nature to be confrontational like that.

Very soon after the wife of the husband-wife team running the healing ministry service came over and instructed that I was removed from the meeting. I can’t remember what was said specifically, but it was clear I was being disruptive and that it wasn’t going to end soon. I remember being disappointed by her tone and it came across unsympathetic and unloving. She would later apologise to me for what was said and explain why I needed to be removed. Sadly the respect she had previously lost would never be regained from me.

So, there I was, being half carried half frog marched from the hall into the back of the church sanctuary by people I didn’t know feeling very dazed and extremely emotional.

Thankfully it was the church that I regularly attended and so being placed in a chair at the back of a church I knew, which was only half lit, was both comforting and relaxing. The resident minister of the church was also a man I knew well and respected immensely so it was a great comfort to see him come join my group of attendees.

I don’t recall if the original prayers remained in the hall or came with me, but the focus of what happened next changed. I had about 5 or 6 people standing around me now, one of whom was the church minister already mentioned. Another of note is an older lady, not the same one who made the of hand comment earlier. This lady had a man in constant attendance, he would whisper things to her (which I could hear) and she would repeat them to the group. Yet I do not recall anyone acknowledging him at all. Although I would see the lady again in future services, I would never see the man again. I came to the conclusion that he was an angel guiding the process of my deliverance.

I don’t remember who any of the other people with me were.

I have no idea how long the rest of my deliverance experience lasted, it involved praying to God for guidance, naming of emotions, instructing demons to leave and the invocation of the name of Jesus and the power of his blood.

At one point the minister picked up my right wrist and examined a bracelet I had on. It was a twisted copper and silver bracelet from Zambia, which was made to look like a snake was circling my wrist. He eyed it thoughtfully for a moment and then placed my hand back on the arm of the chair. Later, back at my flat, with my right arm twitching uncontrollably I removed the bracelet and dropped it in the bin, the twitching stopped instantly. On being told this later, the minister responded with a smile “well that’ll teach me not to listen to God”.

When it was decided enough was enough and my ordeal was over, at least for that night, I was escorted back into the church hall. The service was long over and most people had left, it was just a few stragglers and tidy uppers left. Those I knew were keen to see how I was. I just wanted to hug my girlfriend and tell her how much I loved her, which I did. Understandably, the whole process had been very upsetting for her and she had sought solace with the minister’s wife, a most wonderful lady with a fabulously welcoming smile and the gentlest demeanour you could ever wish to experience.

That’s pretty much it for the deliverance part. There is a follow up which will have to have a post of its own.

The Move to Secondary School Didn’t Change Much

Life at secondary school did little to change my Christian belief and certainly didn’t seriously challenge my creationism.

Personally, life during these early teen years was horrid. My parents were going through an increasing antagonistic relationship. Well the antagonism was all going in one direction, which I and my brothers reacted badly against.

The emotional pain of it was very isolating and I earned the reputation for being a bit of a cry-baby. Not a good start for someone at an English all boys boarding school. Oh how I missed my friends in Zambia, and especially my brothers. It didn’t feel right being at school in England, I didn’t want to be there, I was in an unknown culture and I terribly lonely, I needed more than anything to be in a loving environment, with people I loved. School in England simply did not provide that, despite the very Christian ethos of the place and the couple of students whom I also knew from school in Zambia.

You’d have though that an English secondary education in the 80s would have included evolution to some level. I am sure it must have at some point, but I simply do not recall it coming up in any class at all. I remember we covered the basics of some parts of the body in biology, and then there was the obligatory frog dissection. That’s about all I can remember.

The only evolution discussion I can remember is with a class mate who accepted evolution and I challenged him over where each progressive animal emerged from. With each answer I laughed louder and pronounced evolution as impossible.

With each school holiday I loved returning to Zambia, the sun, my mother and brothers, the occasional safari. Oh how I loved those holiday safari’s, probably the only times I was truly relaxed in the presence of my dad and the new woman. If I close my eyes tight I can still go back to those moments, the warm sun, the still air, the clear blue skies, the silence, oh the silence. Scanning the bush for animals, any animal would do, getting clues from the birds in flight about what we might be able to see. Oh I could go on and on….

Sadly those moments were always too brief and real life was always a shock.

Staying with mum was the exception. I always looked forward to the holiday time spent with mum. There would typically be a few days of wind down but simply being there with her was often enough. There was no need for anything more special. Her always loving and gentle patience was so badly needed during those years.

I was very angry and the situation she was in, an only child, thousands of miles away from her parents, single mum living in a small flat who saw her children for only half of each holiday, the rest of the time they were at boarding school. There were numerous times when I tried to be act as her protector and she had to remind me that I was her son and it was her who protected me, not the other way round. They were hard lessons for a teenager in deep emotional turmoil.

David Jenkins and the Mythical Christ

On leaving Zambia and settling into a town in southern England I quickly found myself attending a Methodist church that was just round the corner from the digs that I rented a room out of.

This was the late 1980s and it wasn’t long before the then Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins would hit the news headlines with comments calling into question the reality of the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ. Instead he said that Jesus lived on in our hearts and minds as we continue to remember him and his life.

I was stunned. How could a Christian say this? Let alone a Bishop! It was absurd to me that anyone who was a Christian leader could believe and teach anything other than these facts as they were reported in the bible. To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and his physical body as a man was only a temporary home for him. His birth was a miracle, born of a virgin and his death was foretold, along with his resurrection. This resurrection is necessary for the salvation of our souls. To deny both these facts of his life is to deny his divinity. You may as well ditch the whole thing if you can’t believe those.

Why on earth would a bishop deny such things? It made no sense to me at all. To be a bishop you had to be a Christian and to be a Christian you had to believe those two events were real historic events, as written down in the bible. Only an atheist would voice doubt about those.

The complicit Minister

My confusion would only get worse.

Two weeks later I was at a home group meeting, which just so happened to be at the house of the Methodist minister for the church I attended. The subject of Bishop Jenkins and his remarks came up, of course.

Instead of reassuring us all, as I expected, the minister simply confirmed the comments made by Bishop Jenkins. Stating that he was right, Jesus lives, but only through us.

I was speechless, my mind was doing summersaults, how could this be so? I struggled awfully with the concept of what I was hearing to the point where I was unable to voice my thoughts, so I said nothing for the rest of the evening and just absorbed what was being said.

One lady, an older lady who I would have said was in her late 40s / early 50s, was obviously having the same trouble I had but had found her voice. She was visibly shaken, but was able to blurt out that she took these facts as literal and had always been told that, throughout her life. Now here she was being told that was all wrong and she really struggled to comprehend it. She kept repeating that they were supposed to be true facts.

I can’t really remember much more of what was said or discussed that evening and when I left I still felt heavy hearted and dismayed. I really did not know how to respond. I liked the minister very much, he was a gentle and caring man who always had a warm smile and something wise or amusing to say. But today I was struggling and I didn’t know how to explain the deep discomfort that I felt.

It would be about a year later that I left that church. For practical reasons reason more than anything else. I moved to a new rented room which was the other side of town so started attending the Anglican church that was closer to me.

Brief Recap

Before going into my adult experiences of Christianity and young earth creationism I thought it would be a good idea to give brief recap of my beliefs and level of Christianity moving from childhood.

The posts that come under the category of ‘The Beginning’ give the salient points of my upbringing to the age of 18.

What I believed, either through direct teaching or through assumption.

  • God made the world in 7 literal days
  • Up until the time of the biblical flood, there had been no rain, the rainbow account was the first occurrence of a rainbow, ever
  • All the characters mentioned in the bible, and their adventures occurred exactly as stated. This includes:
  • The spiritual gifts listed in the bible are real gifts that humans can and do use
  • God is a personal god of love and has an interest in us as individuals.

In terms of my own Christian dedication, I had no doubt I was a Christian and I had no issue with going to church. I considered it important that I did, the thought of not going to church just didn’t feature. I attended many different churches of different denominations over those early years.

As a person I had very low self esteem, thanks to my parents marriage breakup, controlling step-mother and step-siblings, English public school and probably other factors too. I recall not having much freedom to find and express my own views, opinions and ideas.

Christianity to me was defacto and unquestionable. There had been boys at school in England who challenged Christianity, but the school itself did not, with the majority of teachers being practising Christians. There was even a school Chaplin.

So at 18 years old, I was to leave home in Zambia, with a plane ticket for England and make my way in the big bad world. Of one thing I was certain, I would be looking for a church to attend with the same seriousness as I would be looking for a job.