For anyone who ever wondered about my specific journey from a christian worship leader to being agnostic, here’s a quick/lengthy run down on some of the highlights. Remember that this is some of the story from my point of view and I’m leaving most of the details out.
I lived the first 14 years of my life without a religion or belief system. I believed in the idea of a god. I even prayed. But I didn’t know anything about religions. When I was 14, my friends explained the baptist/christian scenario to me. About how by being born, you’re a sinner destined for Hell. But Jesus died for you so if you believe in him, he’ll forgive you. But just so we make sure you say the right things, repeat this prayer after me. Anyway, at the time, that really spoke to me and I genuinely believed and devoted my life to Jesus. I started going to church regularly. Being a musician, it’s easy to get sucked into the music part of church. Before long I was playing in the youth group band. With this comes some expectations about how you behave in and out of church. You’re kind of considered somewhat of a leader. To me, the bible is pretty clear that Jesus wants you to devote your life to him. So I wasn’t going to do this halfheartedly. I really studied and tried to be a devoted believer.
Before long, I was invited to lead worship for a youth group across town. Their youth leader/worship leader had moved to a different town. So I was filling in. Several of the people who went there were friends of mine. One thing led to another and I was the official worship leader for the youth group. I also played bass for the main Sunday service. After a few years, I was about to graduate high school and go to an audio engineering school in AZ. My pastor sat down with me and offered to bring me on as staff and pay for online bible college. I thought long and hard about it and ended up taking his offer. I was on staff as assistant pastor/worship leader. I was leading the youth group services music and a lot of the time I was preaching as well. On Sundays I’d lead worship for both morning and evening services. At one point, I led worship for and preached at our regional youth rally. This was genuine for me. I was wholeheartedly doing this. This was an assemblies of god church and I went all out in our worship services. Things got crazy often and I was more than fine with that. If you go to an AOG church you know what I mean.
During my bible studying since I was a believer and especially during my online bible courses, my one thing that kept creeping up in my mind was the credibility of the bible. Since this was what every single belief in my religion hinged on, it always bothered me that basically I’m just taking someone’s word that the people who wrote the books in the bible were God’s vessels, that the bible hasn’t be corrupted/translated incorrectly, that the apostles could really remember details about Jesus life clearly after 30 or 40 years enough to dictate the gospels to a scroll writer etc. This was always my recurring doubt. At least that was the core issue for me. I read every apologetic book I could find. It basically boiled down to blind faith. You’re taking a lot of people’s word. There has to be faith. Christianity is a faith based religion. You can say that you know for sure, but you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t need faith.
There were a lot of times i could get past it and tell myself to trust God etc. But it kept coming up in my mind and every time it gained a little more traction. I was taking a course on the gospels and how to harmonize their seeming discrepancies and contradictions. This was very interesting to me because it was acknowledging the confusion and explaining it. I thought it may help to explain some of this in a youth group setting. It turned out that one of my good friends decided to give up his faith after that lesson. He went full blown atheist. I was instructed that it was a bad judgement call on my end to talk about bible contradictions in the youth group. That was what got me started considering leaving that particular church. They seemed to thrive on people’s blind obedience (another long story) and ignorance.
During the last few months of my employment with this church, my girlfriend and I were getting pretty serious. My pastor did not approve of her. He told me on several occasion that he thought she was a bad idea for me. Then he would suggest I date other specific girls. One of his main reasons was that she wasn’t baptized in the holy spirit. (mindlessly blabbing random syllables and believing it’s God speaking through you). He told us that if it came down to it, he would not marry us. Well things started getting weirder there and people were getting treated very differently for the same offenses. (long story) Once the pastor was yelling and accusing me of lying to him about putting some chairs away, I was done.
I typed out a resignation letter and drove to his house and gave it to him. He told me that there would be a curse on my life from then on and asked if I had sex with my girlfriend so that he would know whether he could approve me to other churches. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the absurdity I experienced with this church.
For the first time in 7 years, I wasn’t in a church leadership position. I could actually study and think about my faith without the pressure of living the right way and always having it together. I continued to lead worship for a couple youth summer camps. I was still writing music with christian lyrics for a good while.
The morning I decided I didn’t believe in God anymore was in April 2008 at Fedex. It was a mindless job of pre-loading. Which made for great thinking time. The other thing, beside the bible itself, that bothered me was that a “loving” God allowed people to burn in hell for eternity. For several months I had been studying other churches doctrines. I came across the united church of god. They had free books you could download explaining their beliefs in depth. The thing that intrigued me most about them was that they didn’t believe humans went to hell. They used the same bible and the same verses but interpreted them differently. These interpretations made so much more sense to me. Just about every belief of theirs made the bible make more sense. I went verse for verse through every bible reference they gave. And Hell can absolutely be interpreted out of the bible. The problem now, was that my initial reason for being a christian wasn’t valid anymore. I believed and followed Jesus and was “saved” from hell. If nobody goes to hell, then what am i being saved from? These things were going through my head at work that morning.
The God of the christian bible didn’t really have anything else going for him in my eyes. He’s very violent, jealous, a hypocrite, selfish, mean, schizophrenic. I didn’t agree with most of his decisions in the bible. So at that point, I went as far as deciding I wasn’t a christian anymore. For a while, I still believed in the idea of a god. But when I seriously thought about it, there is never a way to know for sure one way or the other. To me, it doesn’t seem like something you need to “believe” or not believe. No one is asking you to make your mind up. I decided that I was agnostic/atheist. I could never say for sure that God doesn’t exist or never existed. On the other hand, I can’t ever say for sure that he does exist or gives a shit about any of us. So just know that all of these decisions were not without years and years of careful contemplation. I am so very happy with my life. I absolutely feel mentally healthier. I can’t say that would be true for everyone. But I imagine that if you dig deep enough into your faith and studies and some of the same questions and struggles will pop up.