There’s an interesting thing about people who think they know the absolute truth…they often claim to know me better than I know myself. But since I’m the only one, aside from possibly god, who knows what happens inside my head, it stands to reason that I’m the only one qualified to say what I think, what I feel, and what my reasons are for doing or saying certain things. Claiming so firmly to know what’s going on in my head, and being so wrong about it, only makes you lose a lot of credibility. This is why I try to refrain from making statements about the motivation of another individual, something I probably need to be more careful about considering how much I dislike it being done to me.
I got a response to my previous article about deism, in which the statement was made that I can’t tell the difference between being “truly saved” or not, because it hasn’t happened to me yet, and that is why I can’t properly understand the bible. It’s a common Christian response to anyone who has a different opinion on anything to do with their religion. They won’t accept that the reason other people can’t properly understand the bible might be that there is no proper way to understand it. If someone disagrees, it isn’t because they studied from a different perspective and came to a reasonable conclusion…no, it’s because they weren’t “truly saved”, and thus weren’t “given the gift of faith” that will open their eyes and magically make them understand some hidden meaning in the very same words they’ve been reading all along.
Except…I was saved. According to many versions of Protestant doctrine, including the one I was raised in, I am a saved Christian and always will be and nothing I do or believe can change that. The “never was saved” argument is a blatant fallacy, but I think it’s the only way they have to reconcile the existence of people like me with the belief that no true Christian can lose their salvation. So I must be a liar, of course. Data that conflicts with the core belief system must be rejected.
When I was six years old, I sat in church with my parents. I hardly understood Christianity; all I knew was that the big scary pastor got up in front of everyone each week and boomed about how important it was to believe in Jesus. And then they passed around some bread and wine (or possibly grape juice), which everyone but me got to eat and drink. It looked tasty, and being a fan of food, I decided that believing in Jesus would be a good option. Also, I wanted to fit in and be like my parents, as most small children do. I was lured into Christianity by food and that ubiquitous childish instinct to imitate adults.
Over time, I haven’t lost my love for food, or indeed the desire to fit in, although the latter has shifted into something I mostly ignore in favor of mental health. However, my supposed conversion at age six wasn’t really the “moment” I became saved. Sure, I understood that I was committing myself to following the teaching of my family and church regarding the bible. At that point I’d been able to read on my own for nearly three years, and I’d spent plenty of time reading the incomprehensible religious book they gave me. I understood more and more, and I knew the basics, but it didn’t mean much to me for most of my childhood.
The big change came when I finally joined a youth group at age sixteen and made some friends. Again, the desire to fit in was probably a major factor, but I grew quite fond of Christianity–the specially filtered version they fed me, at least. For the next few years I read the entire bible multiple times and prayed almost constantly. I memorized entire chapters, which doesn’t take me long; I’d spend thirty minutes with a twenty-verse chapter and recite it flawlessly a day later. I learned how to shut down my own rational thinking and accept illogical explanations for the passages that bothered me. I wrote completely sincere articles about my faith, infused it into my novels, and set out to make a difference in the world by helping struggling people. When I had a really intense crush on a girl, which I didn’t want because I thought I shouldn’t have any romantic relationships at fifteen, I kept quiet about it and literally prayed that the feelings would go away, with absolute faith, almost every single night for more than a year. Rather than realizing my prayer wasn’t making a difference, I convinced myself that there was a reason I had to endure it.
That sounds like the peak, right? Well I kept going. I was troubled by things I had read in the books of James and First John, dissatisfied with the answers my pastor gave, and some Wesleyan/Nazarene ideas caught my attention. Months of intense study and quite a few nights of intense prayer followed, during which I realized that if read honestly, the bible does in fact call for believers to stop sinning entirely, and makes it obvious that such a feat is possible. If there’s one moment when I became saved, it was the night I accepted that truth.
It’s amazing how strongly you can motivate yourself with just the power of your own mind. Practically overnight, I dropped some bad habits and addictions that I’d struggled with for years. Even now, I have no trouble with those temptations. The psychological phenomenon is fascinating…when you are convinced that you can’t do something (such as stop sinning), you won’t. The simple realization that I could stop those habits is what enabled me to stop. I attributed it to my religion and spent the next couple years trying to express this amazing new freedom I’d discovered. Of course, being so genuine draws criticism from all the fakers, much like Jesus drew criticism from the Pharisees. Spreading the good news, as a true Christian is supposed to, resulted in being “confronted”, attacked, and insulted by a lot of Christians who apparently saw my unusual beliefs as a threat.
What I didn’t realize at the time is just how effective the doctrine of depravity is at keeping people within the religion. Once you’ve convinced someone that they’re a totally evil sinner whose only hope is Jesus, they want that hope. Then, all you have to do is withhold the actual salvation until after they die; tell them that they can’t actually be righteous in this world, and if they believe it, they’ll keep sinning and keep coming back to the church for affirmation of their salvation. It’s nothing more than a less institutionalized version of Catholic confession.
Through all of this, from ignorant little kid to passionate college student, I was nothing but sincere. In my teens, I quietly buried myself in study, devouring everything I could get my hands on. Several times I spent hours reading an entire Christian blog in one sitting to gain a deeper understanding of some specific subject or viewpoint. This is how devoted I am to knowledge and the truth. It’s why I know so much about a wide range of subjects, because it’s the same thing I do with every field of study that catches my attention. I do not take absolute claims of truth lightly, nor do I accept information that conflicts with something I already hold to be true without extensive research and logical examination.
So how did I become a deist? Stick around for my next article and you’ll find out.