Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I finally realized why religion has been such a problem for me. After finding a church which openly welcomed gay members I was still unhappy, still empty. Until a few weeks, ago when a close friend asked a few questions that I had never bothered to ask myself.

"Are you really comfortable believing in God when there's an alternative? Does it feel natural? Are you sure that you want to believe? Or are you just in love with the idea of believing?"

I now realize that the problem hasn't been in the churches I've been attending and rejecting. The problem is that I have doubts as to whether or not there even is a God, and I think I can now see where my doubts began.

When I was a fifteen and a member of my church choir, my pastor asked if any of us would be interested in directing the youth portion of our annual "Make a Joyful Noise Unto The Lord Concert." This was a yearly event, a summation fundraiser, that we held in the last week of July to raise extra bucks for the church music program. Or at least that's what we told ourselves. Part of me suspects that the related talent contest was nothing more than a blatant study in egotism, but that's another story for another time and place. On a more profound level, I now realize that this was just another psychological tool that religionists like to use to keep unsuspecting kids tethered to the church. You know what I mean. It was supposed to demonstrate that the church wasn't all that strict and that we were being trusted to produce an enjoyable concert. Of course, that didn't cross my mind at the time, so when Pastor Jacob asked for volunteers I foolishly shot my hand into the air like a pre-programmed android and volunteered.

A few days later I sat down with my fellow choir members, we tossed around a few suggestions. A few minutes later we had this idea for a thirty minute "musical" that would celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We took the idea back to Pastor Jacob, and predictably, he loved it. We included seven songs. Five of which were contemporary Christian pieces, two of which were (gasp!) pop songs! To be specific, an old Carpenter's tune, a favorite of my mother called "TOP OF THE WORLD," and a more recent Carly Simon song called "LIFE IS ETERNAL." I have to say that with a little help from our choir director, I did a damned good job at arranging the songs. Especially "LIFE IS ETERNAL," which I unfolded as a kind of thee part round. All in all the whole thing was an upbeat and positive experience. Or at least it could have been.

The concert went smashingly. We got plenty of applause and the local paper said that the youth portion of the concert was "top notch." I felt as if I had accomplished something special. Until the Sour Puss Contingency in our congregation began to gripe and groan about the inappropriate song! While we were basking in a little, well-deserved praise, a couple of high power church members (read wealthy assholes) complained about the "New Age tunes" that we had performed. Suddenly Pastor Jacob--who knew what we had been doing from the get go--called me on the phone and asked me to come to the church.

When I arrived at the church, Pastor Jacob gave me a dressing down and ordered me to both, apologize to the congregation at the next Sunday morning service, and to write an apologetic letter to the local paper.

What a hypocrite. The smarmy little bastard had known all along what we had planned, and now he was asking a 15-year-old kid to cover his ass for him. I remember standing there, gritting my teeth in absolute rage, but agreeing to make the demanded apologies. How could I have been so fucking weak?

It didn't end there. I wrote the letter and mailed it off to the local paper like an obedient, little disciple, whereupon other members of the congregation and the community at large wrote in to defend our presentation. This COULD have been a good thing if the Sour Puss Constituency hadn't decided that a 15-year-old must have connections! In other words, I had asked the supportive people to write sarcastic letters to the editor! Yeah. Right.

My pastor was furious. He took me aside after our Wednesday night choir rehearsal and gave me another dressing down. This time I lost it. Somewhere between the words "gutless hypocrite," and the eye opening phrase "go fuck yourself," I decided that I didn't want to put up with this pewny little man's health problem (i.e. the fact that he had been born without a spine or guts) anymore.

When I got home, I learned that Pastor Jacob had called my adoptive father. I kind of figured this out when dad yelled at me for "mean-mouthing" a "man of God," and proceeded to beat the shit out of me. This was an unusually savage attack Not as bad as the one that I survived at the hands of a pack of Bible-thumping homophobes in 2003, but bad enough. Under normal circumstances I'm an avid swimmer. But not in the summer of 1998. I was so ashamed of the bruises that covered my ribcage for the next few weeks that I wouldn't even take my shirt off except when I went to bed at night.

By this time you might get the idea that little things like courage, integrity, and self-control are in short supply in some Fundamentalist churches, and if that's the idea you're getting, who am I to argue with you? You've got it right.

And yet, in a very strange way I am grateful for these events. They opened my eyes in a way that they had never been opened before. Beneath all the talk about God's love, and morality, and decency, I discovered a very shallow, hypocritical congregation which desperately needed to cast the beam from its own collective eye before it could condemn others. The first seeds of doubt had been planted, and there would soon be more.

Thinking I might find some answers in the Bible, I did something that Pastor Jacob had never recommended. I began to read The Bible. Not selected chapters. Not preassigned readings, but the ENTIRE BIBLE, from start to finish. I wasn't about to take my problem to my pastor because my pastor was the problem. But I could still differentiate between my Pastor and God. So if my pastor was the problem, where else would I go except The Bible?

What I found horrified me. Instead of the benevolent, deity that I had learned about in high school, I discovered a cruel, sadistic being who behaved more like the Devil and than a just loving God. The God I found outside my selective reading was neither moral nor immoral. He was worse. He was self-contradicting to the point of the ammoral. This was a deity who delighted in the deaths of innocent women and children; who had 42 children torn to pieces by a bear because the children had made fun of a prophet; who condoned the slaughter of innocent women and children.

Today I realize that if it hadn't been for Pastor Jacob's bullshit that I never would have read The Bible. Nor would I have recognized the fact that God is a made up story; that he was created by primitive people who were trying to explain life's hardships and natural events. And more importantly, I never would have realized that this invented Deity is a raving, right wing psychopath who deserves neither respect nor worship.

People keep asking me "Danny, how can you give up all that comfort?" To which I ask, "What comfort? How was I being comforted when I alowed my pastor and my congregation to do my thinking for me? How was I being comforted when my church wanted to hide the violence and cruelty in the Bible? Was this nothing more than a false sense of security? Was I not deceiving myself for all those years when I desperately wanted to believe that a loving god was running a well-ordered universe? In retrospect I would say that I was deceiving myself.

So if I no longer have the comfort of premade decisions and hand me down morals. I now have free thought. I am now compelled to think in a more rational manner. That means that I have to look at the facts, and weigh the evidence, and question everything. I really didn't intend to go through a deconversion process. It was the last thing on my mind. But now that I am on this path I want to continue. I want to find out where it leads.

It feels so liberating to no longer be a child of a an angry, anal- retentive god.


halcyon67 said...

I think just in general that religion makes people feel guilty rather than innocent.Also that it brings you down more than it brings you up, because so much is expected of you. And if you do not do what you are told to do, it is eternal damnation. That is quite a burden if you believe in faith.

Daniel Gallagher said...

Yeah. And the funny thing about it is that I readlly didn't intend to become an atheist. Right now I'm probably more agnostic than atheist, but I see myself moving in that direction and it is both comforting and discomforting at the same time. Change is never easy, and sometimes it takes us in the direction that we least expect it. I really did enjoy learning about Jesus, and I really did love some of the things about my church. But then I started to realize that the church had a few warts, and as time went by, the warts began to cover everything else. I guess in some ways I feel both liberated by free thought and betrayed by the lies that my church told for all those years. Sometimes life can be complicated, but at least it isn't boring.