Part Five: Diagnosis and Suicide

As I continued on, my fixation on vulgar utterances continued along with me. Much of my previous post took place when I was in fifth grade, and much of this one will take place when I was in sixth. 

I had adjusted to this new living arrangement, despite some difficulties, and things were going generally smooth. I still saw my dad everyday due to him taking me to school, not to mention the time he spent at my house on saturdays doing yard work. The hardest part of all of it was the general environment of my house due to my mom feeling left alone. It made it so my sister and brother-in-law visited far more often. On such occasion is when my consistent and constant curses were found out. 

The more I whispered these words to myself, the more guilt I started to feel. The more guilt I started to feel, the more I couldn’t stop. I was really afraid of being found out, so I tried my hardest not to say any such things around my family. I did not stop trying to conceal my utterances, but they were of such that I would not be able to hide them forever.

The majority of my family was watching TV in the front room, and often times when they did that they watched something I didn’t want to watch, so I’d go and watch something in my mom’s room. 

At one point when I came out to socialize, I walked past where my brother-in-law was sitting and at that time I started cursing, as I always did, under my breath. He looked at me, and fairly quietly asked, “what did you just say?” Immediately in panic, I said, “Nothing. I didn’t say anything…” 

Here is where my memory does not serve me well, I cannot remember whether or not I later admitted to him that I had indeed cursed and I could not stop. Or, if things were left alone. All I know was that the guilt was starting to become too much to bear. 

I went to my mom shortly after this event and talked to her in her room. I remember prefacing it by saying something like, “I’ve been doing something bad” or “I’ve been sinning”, possibly, I could have even asked, “You’ll still love me no matter what, right?” Either way my mom had me continue on. So, I told her what I had been doing, all about my cursing and how I could not stop. I nearly broke down into tears until I realized she was smiling and said something simple like, “I know. It’s okay.” Relief swept over me and she continued on, “I’ve just been waiting for you to come to me about this.” She explained how it wasn’t my fault, that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. My urges to make vocal noises, even swear words, was all something that I could be naturally doing just because that’s the way I was. And that it was nothing to be ashamed of. 

We made plans for me to go see a specialist, and so I was given a day off from school and we had to drive out to Arroyo Grande (I believe) for me to be tested. I was then diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and put on Zoloft to help me deal with my tics. The guilt was completely gone. It helped significantly. I never had urges anymore, I couldn’t directly think about how I made those sounds and not feel an urge to have any tics whatsoever. Despite all of this guilt being taken from me, I started to feel like this diagnosis made me different, weirder, or defective. 

In addition to this, I started feeling more and more curious about killing myself. Suicide became something that I thought about all the time. Not that I specifically wanted to commit suicide, but my fixation seemed to move from these verbal tics to this thought of how I could possibly do it, and would I? I started to distrust objects in my room and what harmful destruction they could have over me. 

When I told my mom about all of this, she immediately wanted me off of my medication. My tics came back, but those suicidal thoughts and the feelings of being defective were completely gone. 

My TS has significantly calmed, and though you may still see me go through bouts of motor or vocal tics, I do not feel overwhelmed by them. And though my diagnosis helped me realize that there are certain things I don’t have to feel guilty about, this wasn’t my only interaction with guilt, or with suicidal thoughts. Both of these things play an intimate part of my overal story and how I became an atheist. 

Part Four: Guilt and Separation

There was a period in which my family spent a lot of time going to my grandmother’s church in Oxnard. We’d get up early enough to make the two hour drive and go to the late service, and afterwards spend the day at my grandparents house. I hardly ever wanted to go to the kids service or activity place when we did this because I didn’t know any of them. So, I spent time in “big church” with my family. I had a problem though with that, I’d always make these little noises with my mouth. I’d try to pronounce different vowels together and I couldn’t stop doing it. It got to the point where many times my mom had me leave the sanctuary and wait outside. She didn’t want to do it, but I was distracting. I’d go to the boys restroom and spend time in there, but then felt a tremendous amount of guilt, like I was doing it subconsciously to get out of church. This lead to me sitting right by the doors to the sanctuary, listening to the sermon, and making my mouth sounds. 

Around this same time, or maybe a little after, my dad started sleeping on a blow up mattress in our game room. A place where my sister and brother-in-law slept for a little while when they were in between living situations. I was really curious as to why he was doing that, and whenever I asked him he said that the bed was too soft and hurt his back. That they’d have to get a new one. I just thought, “ok” and moved along with my days. Eventually though I talked to my mom about it and asked why they didn’t get a new mattress so dad didn’t have to sleep in the game room. She almost broke into tears, and I didn’t really understand why. I was oblivious to what was going on, and it wasn’t until the night before a friend’s birthday party that things started clearing up. We had gotten two toys for him and in my childlike selfishness, I wanted one of them. It became this big ordeal and led to a large amount of screaming between my mom and my dad. 

Shortly after that night my dad said he wanted to talk to me and we sat down in the front room and he showed me the floor plan to this little townhouse he said he was going to get. He showed me where I’d be able to sleep, and said I’d always be welcome to stay there. That it was my choice where I spent my time, but that he wasn’t going to live here anymore. I left it at that, and didn’t really want to face what was going on. My parents were getting divorced. I didn’t need to think about it so legalistically, I just kind of accepted it, without any real impact. I almost didn’t care. My dad used to have an incredibly short temper. I remember days where we’d all hide in my room afraid, and pray that he’d calm down.

Needless to say, that was a long time ago and things in his life have changed him. But at the time, I didn’t see a terribly big deal with them separating. But they constantly told me that it wasn’t because of me, they needed to make sure I knew that. It had to do with them, they were not divorcing because of me. I never thought that, it never occurred to me. But they said it so often that it made me think that it really could have been me. 

Over this time the sounds I made with my mouth became words. Namely words like “damn”, “shit”, “bitch”, and “fuck.” As I said before, I was raised thinking words like “crap” were terrible utterances. The amount of guilt that I racked up from my constantly saying these curses was never ending. I thought I was constantly sinning, that I was constantly doing something wrong, and I could not stop. 

My dad ended up moving out pretty soon after all of this. To a little apartment on the other side of town. He still came over every Saturday to do yard work, and much of the time I’d help him for money. Every now and then I’d stay the night in his apartment, sleeping on the sofa. Much later on, when I was in the car with my dad, he told me that he felt like things went terribly wrong. He said, “I never thought we would get divorced, we were Christian, so it just wasn’t an option.” 

I know I haven’t updated recently, due to finals taking over my life, but I will be posting again this weekend, possibly twice. In the meantime, it is ‘A’ Week. The idea came to life I believe 2-3 years ago. All atheists put an ‘A’ as their profile picture to show their friends and other closeted nonbelievers that many people live very happy and fulfilling lives without religion or a god. This is in response to the overwhelming rhetoric that all atheists are bitter depressed people who wander aimlessly through their lives. 

Every year I post a video that in some way talks about the amazingness of the world via science, or something that I didn’t fully understand and appreciate when I was religious, showing how it feels like the world has opened up to me since becoming an atheist. This year is a little different, instead I am posting a video of Daniel Dennett talking about how confusion has evolved over the years and specifically about a project that interviews Christian Priests who are closeted nonbelievers. If you are interested in reading the paper it is readily available online, or you can message me and I’ll send you a copy. 

"[Rick Santorum was] insisting the other day that President Obama only wants to help young people go to college so they can undergo “indoctrination”… In 2008, the former senator argued that Satan had succeeded in his attacks on academia, so it stands to reason the conservative politician would have some concerns about higher ed in the United States."

http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/27/10518152-santorum-warns-of-higher-ed-indoctrination

Part Three: Social Tendencies

This project is meant as an all encompassing look at how I became an atheist. I don’t believe that I can’t properly do that without looking at some other aspects of my life that don’t actually have anything to do with religion. Though this part of my story may not seem immediately relevant to the overall story, I promise things will tie back together later on. So, please bear with me while I deviate from what may have seemed like the focus of the blog (religion), and talk about a different part of my life that has affected me.

I have never been what one could consider “social.” While it is an aspect of my life that I find incredibly important, it is one that is never quite satisfactory. Partly due to the fact that I do not interact well with strangers. Making it hard to really meet people. That is not to say I do not have friends. I have generally gotten better at this as time has gone by, and being around the friends I have tend to boost my social confidence to help make new ones.

I do not bring this up now arbitrarily. The time in which I felt the most like a social outcast was during elementary school. Now, I am probably not alone in that feeling. I also realize it is possible that I am exaggerating or dramatizing this time in my life. I cannot help but feel like my general social situation was always one on the outskirts. I actually remember that a good month or two in fourth grade I literally had no social interaction with my classmates during recesses. That is not to say I didn’t have friends, I did. A good amount of the time though, I wasn’t always interacting with them. I hardly ever had people over to my house and that includes those whom I considered to my best friends. The times I spent at friends’ houses were also few. 

My mom confirmed this multiple times with me and essentially linked it back to my very early childhood, that is, the time before I went to school and my first year or two. She points out that my father really did not enjoy being around people. By the time I was born and growing up he started being more and more antisocial and therefore creating less interaction family to family. Whereas with my brother and sister, they had early childhood experiences with my mom and dad’s friend’s children. I did not have this social interaction at a young age. 

With my closer friends in elementary school, I still tended to be quiet, even when we did hang out. Not that young boys often bare their feelings or thoughts, but I tended to not be proactive within those early friendships. Yes, those friendships grew and became important ones during my pre-teenage years and as I grew in that direction I was able to find comfort and stability within them. This doesn’t mean that my social interaction went up. I started trying to find a resource for these social urges more and more by turning to what kids my age (and older) were doing: social networking. I was, to my knowledge, the first kid at my school who got a “myspace.” Quickly after it became the thing that it was, and I invited many of my classmates to join me and even made them their accounts if they didn’t feel like it. 

My growing up with little social interaction and the advent of social networking put me into a terrible cliché: hiding behind a screen. Because of this, my social life gave way to another cliché, not understanding how to make friends in a new school. In my first year of high school I rotated around 5-6 different social groups. None of them really sticking. I didn’t actually start making friendships at my first high school until about four months before I moved to Oregon. Many of those people told me that it was because of my moving that they wanted to get to know me, since time was essentially “running out.” 

Things changed significantly when I started feeling apart of a community at my high school in Beaverton and finding a good friendship with someone there that made me really learn social skills. I still don’t believe I hold most of the ones I need to now make friends in college, but that is a completely different story. Those who know me will be able to tell you that I tend to tease, joke, and make fun of those who I feel most comfortable with which is probably the exact opposite of what to do in terms of building friendships. I am fortunate enough to have people understand that when I do this, it means I like you. Is this right? Of course not, but I doubt I’ll really learn any better now. But that is neither here nor there.

Part Two: Denominations and Doctrines

Despite my only being a few posts into this project, I have already mentioned multiple times that certain aspects of Christianity have everything to do with specific sects. One of the reasons there are so many Christians in the world is because of the fact that there are so many different doctrines; making it extremely accessible. I think before continuing on with my story, it is important to go over what churches I went to and how they shaped my beliefs. 

The church that I was dedicated in was an Evangelical Free (EV Free) church, and was also the church my family belonged to for a significant amount of time, though I have no memory for how long we stayed there. I do remember that we switched to a new EV Free church when I was young that was located about an hour away from where we lived, though I don’t know why we switched. The most important piece of doctrine that this left me with was that the only thing you needed to know to be Christian was accept Jesus as your savior, and maintain a walk with the Lord. This is, of course, a fairly standard view. 

The next church that I remember going to was a Baptist church that was much closer to home. The primary thing I remember about this church was that on a day other than Sunday my mom took me to church where I participated in a Children’s fellowship. They called it Awanas or Sparks. (Sparks is a specific curriculum for K-12 kids that is part of Awana Clubs). I remember it as something akin to Christian boy scouts. You went wearing a red vest (that the church provided) and were given awards for memorizing bible verses and completing other Bible related tasks. None of which I can remember now. 

The most vivid memory from that church is from before I was Christian. I was in “big church” with my mom and the congregation was partaking in communion. I don’t know how the conversation started but it had to do with why I wasn’t allowed to take communion. My mom told me quite seriously that it was only for Christians, and I could only be apart of it if I was. This directly connects back to what I said in my first post about baptism being something that the believer must choose for themselves. With that comes the exclusivity of communion, which I still keep to this day. Every Christmas I go to church with my girlfriend and her family. Even though the church is Lutheran and has a nonexclusive view on communion, I still feel odd partaking in it since I am no longer Christian.

We then went back to the EV Free church that I was dedicated in. This was particularly nice for me because I had friends from school who went there as well. Now church was not solely a religious experience for me, but a social one as well. I strengthened friendships and started finding my place within church activities. I remember going to bible lessons while “big church” convened with my friends and learning specifics about the people in the Bible. 

During this time I was also enrolled in a Christian school that was connected to an Assemblies of God church. I do not actually remember any specific doctrines of this church being implemented in the school. Though, this was the church I ended up being at for the last three or so years of my life in California. With going to this church I was opened up to something new: speaking in tongues. Assemblies of God churches are pentecostal, and therefore believe in speaking in tongues. It was not an uncommon thing during worship in church for a single member of the church to shout out aloud, over the music, a blessing that was meant to be viewed as a message from God. I believe in many circumstances it was a direct quote from the Bible, but not always. My own experience with speaking in tongues I will save for another post. 

As you can see, I was introduced to many different viewpoints on Christianity and yet they all blended together for me to create a unique belief system that shaped me as a believer and gave me a certain world view which aided in how I judged the world and those around me. I remember after leaving EV Free, my mom and I tried many different churches together, one of which was a nondenominational. She liked the people and atmosphere but said the sermon was watered down and weak. That she didn’t see herself growing as a believer in that church. Not that my mom is an elitist, but I think there was a certain level of elitism instilled in me at an early age about what proper Christians thought, did, and said. 

Part One: Born and “Born Again”

In Santa Maria, California on the 15th of February in 1991, I was born. Shortly after at EV Free Church in Orcutt, Pastor Pruett dedicated me to Jesus. I was to grow in recognition of the Lord’s majesty and be a servant for the Almighty. In the particular belief system of Christianity I was born into, it is not customary to baptize infants since it was viewed as a choice they needed to make for themselves. To replace this tradition handed down from Catholicism, they give dedications instead, which is what I received by my family. 

My family being what I’ve come to consider Conservative Christian, Christian religious practice informed through present day Conservative politics. I cannot pretend that my family is a load of Conservative Zealots, or even Christian Zealots. In terms of where they are in the spectrum of allowing Conservative politics inform their Christianity, they are not as drastic at all. But they are the kind to take political talking points from pastors. 

My mom’s father (who died this last July on Independence Day) fancied himself a Biblical Scholar who focused his studies on prophecies. He continues today to be a great influence on me in terms of his intellectual curiosity, though I disagree with almost every political and theological position he held. My own father fancies himself a type of scholar on the Bible and Christian history, and it surprises me today to see the amount he actually does know. 

My parents raised me under a comfortable middle class roof, telling me and my siblings about the love of Jesus. We had regular days where we’d read a Christian devotional called “this or that” which was meant to help your children how to make good decisions. My family also regularly watched the TV show “7th Heaven” together.

Despite my dad’s love for wine, my mom made sure our home was alcohol free. Because of this I thought drinking was a sin to a very late lage. That goes the same for smoking. Words like “crap” and “dumb” were forbidden, and Christian music was the only acceptable music until you were a teenager. Though that did not stop my dad from playing The Rolling Stones on a regular basis. This last rule faded away quickly for me, not so quickly for my brother and sister before me. And like my brother and sister before me, I went to Christian school.

At the age of four (I believe) I was put into preschool at Pacific Christian School. I spent half the day there before my mom picked me up from school. The year after I was put into Kindergarten. I was now at school for the full day and started my education, including my education of the Bible.

In accordance with the idea of one needing to make a conscious choice to be baptized, we were told how important it was to become a believer while also how it is something we must be ready to do. We needed to be at a certain level of maturity to understand the gravity of what we were doing to properly become a Christian; the words meant nothing if it was not confirmed in our heart through understanding. 

Having been told the story of Jesus; I wanted to become Christian. I thought it seemed odd how my teacher and parents talked about it like it was something we needed to be absolutely sure about. I thought it seemed pretty straightforward and kind of a no brainer. If all this that they told me is true, then why wouldn’t I accept Jesus into my heart? I had nothing to lose. Not to mention that the sooner I did it the more “mature” it made me look, which I was oddly concerned with at that age. 

So the night after my teacher’s talk to my class about becoming Christian, I went to my mom and told her I wanted to become a Christian. I sat at the edge of her bed and she recited the Lord’s Prayer and I repeated. She lightly cried and I asked her, “is that it?” She told me, “yes, that’s it. I love you.” and then she hugged me. 

The next day I told my teacher that I was now a Christian, becoming the first person in my class to become one. I was five. 

Anonymous said: If an athiest dies, and they did not accept Jesus, and there is a God, then they spend eternity in Hell. If an athiest dies, and they did not accept Jesus, and there is no God, then no harm done. To be on the safe side, why not accept Jesus?

What you have essentially laid out is Pascal’s Wager. That someone should be Christian just in case Christianity is true/avoid hell. On a doctrinal level this doesn’t work because many Christians believe that the actual accepting of God is something that has to be authentic, and due to that authenticity they are saved. Whereas just performing the practices doesn’t redeem you. So, if Christianity is true, and you act on the wager then you still might not be saved (depending on, again which set of beliefs is true) from going to hell. 

There is also a philosophical reason why Pascal’s Wager doesn’t work. Essentially, when entering into it you’re making the assumption that the only possibilities are no god, and Christian God. Which is not true, there are millions of religions that have equal probability of being true with Christianity. So, to properly play the wager you must accept and practice each one, which doesn’t seem possible, both practically and theologically (since some religions would dictate the non-belief of others).   

Anonymous said: Favorite living Atheist?

Though this is not the type of question I was expecting, it fits the topic. I don’t know every living Atheist, so unfortunately I’m rather limited in my choices. Quite possibly, Daniel Dennett. He’s one of the fewer popular Atheists who doesn’t try to blame the worlds problems on religion like Christopher Hitchens or Bill Maher. He seems to recognize what good religion does in the world and its favorable impact on human’s culture. Granted religion has caused a lot of bad things as well, he doesn’t fall for the fallacy that if we removed religion those things would cease to exist. Bad people, who are religious, attempt to justify their actions with their religion. It doesn’t mean that they still wouldn’t do bad things if they were atheists. They’d simply find a new means of justification.

"Why are you no longer a Christian?"

Ever since I left my old faith, I have been asked this question more times than I could count. I’ve tried to come up with various ways to answer this but each attempt is more complex—and subsequently more confusing—than the last. It’s a topic I’ve tried writing on before but no matter how I approach it; I’m never satisfied with my response. 

Going the other way, I’ve attempted to reduce it down to a Reducto Ad Absurdum. Though it follows quite well; it feels cold and leaves something to desire. This doesn’t mean I have any problem with formal logic or its abilities to produce accurate conclusions. I simply don’t want to assimilate the denial of a god to going from impassioned to cold. 

I finally realized that the most accurate way to describe my conversion would be autobiographically. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing this for awhile, but I’ve felt hesitant due to the type of information I’d need to divulge to be complete and accurate. Not to mention my general recognition of the fallibility of the human memory. Despite all of these hesitations I have decided to push forward with this project. 

I plan on starting with how I became a Christian and what it was like growing up with this faith the first 15-16 years of my life. I feel like this is incredibly important background to understanding my overall point of view on life. It has defined me in ways that I cannot escape and plays a vital role in my rejecting these beliefs. From here, I’ll move through my thoughts and deliberations that led me to eventually becoming an atheist and why I am an atheist instead of agnostic, or converted to a different religion instead. 

In addition to writing my story, I may also post articles on religious topics with my own commentary added. I have also activated a question page, and am completely open to any question you have to ask (within reason). 

I hope this will be as enjoyable for you to read as it is for me to write. The first part of my story will be coming soon.