“Fundamentalism isn’t about religion. It’s about power” – Salman Rushdie
I was having a conversation with Ernest Perce, a friend of mine who is also an atheist and a fellow State Director for American Atheists, Inc. (Pennsylvania). Like myself, he is also a former minister, and we have a lot in common. We are about the same age, we both have families and we were both firebrand Preachers of God’s Holy Word in all of it’s brimstone and sulfur glory. We worked tirelessly for the advancement of the Gospel and made our best (and very successful) efforts to convince anyone and everyone that in spite of all the judgment, condemnation, and flat-out horrific acts of violence on the part of God against humanity, He loved us and that there was joy unimaginable in a life dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ. Like many of us who served God in a “holy capacity,” Ernest and I carry a lot of baggage, and sometime those bags get extremely burdensome.
Wonder Working Power…
One of the things that irritates me most about arguing with a Christian is when they tell me that I wasn’t a “true Christian,” that I had could never have “known Jesus” if I am an atheist now. I can give you scriptural references that they used, none of which matter, but suffice to say, they are clueless in their arrogance, hubris and piety to suggest that I was “faking it.”
Most of us were not faking it, and like Ernest, we believed with every fiber of our being that we were anointed, called directly by God into the ministry and that we were doing his work for the good of all mankind. When we behaved badly, as many of us often did, we justified it by telling ourselves that because we were doing such great works for God, Satan had singled us out for an endless stream of temptations in our lives so that God could test our loyalty, force us into humility, bless with forgiveness and usher us into redemption.
We believed in the “wonder working power” of God, that he charged us with the responsibility to care for and nurture the souls of our congregations, to keep their hearts and minds full of the “Word of God,” and to keep the world out.
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen…
As Ministers, we were not just glad-handing, side-hugging prayer warriors that would meet and greet our flocks with wide smiles, reassuring words and cock-sure grins that oozed assurances of a grand life in mansions that stood along streets of gold, no matter what trials and tribulations we had to endure in the here-and-now. There may be suffering in this life, etc., etc.
As Ministers, we were also the go-to guys for God. When the pomp and circumstance of the worship service was over, when the musicians went home and the choir hung up their robes and when the church building sat idle, we would be called on to minister to those who were in great need.
When they came to us so distraught from the circumstances in their lives that they were at the point of giving up, they sought us out for counseling. But when they confided in us of their struggles with internal feelings of loathing and self-doubt, searching for reassurance or perhaps validation, we had no compunction about telling them just what the Lord expected from them, and quite often those words were hurtful. But we believed they needed to hear them because God doesn’t mince words when it comes to sin, after all. Tough love, etc., etc.
Weapons of Mass Destruction…
People often ask why so many of us who are former Ministers are so strident and seemingly unbending in our disdain for the accommodationists mindset. They wonder why we go out of our way to “blaspheme,” and why we are ill content to leave alone the personal beliefs of others. They ask us why we are so damned meddlesome and almost evangelical in our efforts to promote reason, logic, skepticism and freethought. Well, let me enlighten y0u…
In the hands of the layman, religion is still a formidable weapon against the weak-minded, lonely and distraught. The average Christian might witness to a hundred people in their lifetime, and maybe ten will “accept Christ.” Out of those ten, a few will end up joining the church and getting involved. The layman’s job is now done, and aside from the friendships that are formed and the occasional consolatory shoulder offered, he or she has done their job of winning the soul. These new converts are now at the mercy of the Pastor.
In the hands of the Minister, particularly the charismatic one, religion is a weapon of mass destruction. By virtue of our reach, our position in the community and the influence over our flocks, the Minister has the ability to touch the lives of thousands and thousands of people. And the damage we have done and that Ministers, Preachers, Pastors and Priests are still doing to those who are under their care is loathsome.
When I look back at the hundreds of lives I have negatively impacted with religion, I cringe. When I think of those who have come to me for counseling, distraught and already confused by their indoctrination, and how I proceeded to destroy their sense of self-respect, further convincing them that they were an abomination in the eyes of God and that their besetting sins would assure them a defeated life in the here-and-now and also an eternity in hell, I wince. What I know now to be unthinkable, I believed then to be righteous.
All My Bags Are Packed…
My friend, Ernest, was a Faith Healer. I was a Nouthetic Counselor. You know what a Faith Healer is. A Nouthetic Counselor offers psychological therapy solely based on Scripture. Together we have destroyed hundreds of lives. Together we carry the baggage of these lives each and every day, and we open them up every time we read a story that exposes the evils that come from religious indoctrination.
- When we read about the child that died at the hands of a medical charlatan, we open a bag.
- When we hear about the teenage girl who was disowned and kicked out of her house because she got pregnant, we open a bag.
- When we watch the story about the young man who took his own life because he could not bear being called “faggot” one more time, we open a bag.
- When we read about the First Amendment being trampled on like a wayward piece of trash, we open a bag.
- When we are told about the old woman who was conned out of her life savings by a nefarious televangelist, we open a bag.
We open a lot of bags, and we carry these bags with us because they are a part of who we were, and we need them as a constant reminder. Not just as a reminder of what the realities are in a world that is poisoned by the specter of religion, but also of what could be. Of what is possible. We are the ghosts of Christmas future, and we work diligently to convince the world or anyone who will listen to us to give pause to the red flags we raise, because much like like those that warn coastal residents of an impending storm, our flags are a warning that something wicked this way comes. We know from where we speak…
You’re Doin’ It Wrong…
The Faith Healer can no more cure cancer than the Nouthetic Counselor can cure homosexuality, because faith healing does not work and you cannot “cure” homosexuality. The faith healer may genuinely believe that they have “god-given” powers to heal the sick, but when the healing does not work, they do not even entertain the idea that there is something wrong with what they are doing. The faith healer does not question their abilities or methods because they believe what Scripture says about healing, and they believe they have the power to heal. Their fierce devotion to a perfect God and their blind obedience to an inerrant Scripture allows for no other explanation of the failed healing other than spiritual weakness on the part of the sick who are obviously “doing it wrong.” Thus, the faith healer is left with no other option than to tell the afflicted that remain in their condition due to a lack of faith.
When you are finished reading here, I urge you to wander on over to the No God Blog and read Ernest Perce’s story. Ernest was a Faith Healer of some renown and his story offers much insight into that world, and chronicle his eventual loss of faith and why he had decided to become an activist.
As for me, I was part of a Reparative Therapy Ministry that was so fundamentally anti-LGBT that it put Exodus International and the Bachmann’s to shame. Some of my idols and mentors included Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. My bigotry against homosexuals was legendary, and in the course of my years as a counselor, I destroyed the lives of some wonderful people who needed only to be told that they were just fine the way they were born, and that they were not a aberration.
It was not the sick who were doing it wrong. It was not the homosexual who was doing it wrong. It was people like Ernest and myself who were doing it wrong, filling up bag after bag after bag with the memories of those who sat before us, in tears and in pain, looking for solace in a God who did not exist.
Former Ministers are unique in the atheist movement, and we are often maligned for being too outspoken. We are accused of damaging the efforts of those who are trying to make inroads with the religious community. We are chastised for being polemic and are often told rather plainly to shut the fuck up.
But we cannot, because we know things about religion and about the inner workings of the church and ministries that the layman does not. We were “them.” We were “they.” We were part, parcel and cause of the very things that make religion the poison that it is, and we have an obligation to call it as we see it. Therein lies our redemption, not to a god or mythical savior, but to our fellow humans who we have done a grave disservice to.
We have an obligation to expose the dark underbelly of religion as only those who were “behind the scenes” are able to. We have an obligation to call out the nefarious efforts by the religious right in their attempts to infiltrate the lives of every living human being on the planet and to keep in the forefront of every thinking mind as many examples of the damage that the religion machine churns out every day, because we were once part of that machine.
At The End Of The Day…
When it is time to shut out the lights and rest our minds and bodies, we ask ourselves if we had done enough. We ask ourselves if we have used our unique experiences as Ministers in the fight to set free the minds that are shackled in dogma and chained to doctrine to their full potential for the day. The answer is almost always “no,” and we allot a few more minutes to compile mental lists of what we will do tomorrow. There is always more to do.
Yes, we are strident. But we have to be. This is our calling, but it comes not from an imaginary god. It comes from within. Those whose lives we have destroyed deserve nothing less than our best efforts to do all that we can toward a goal of eradicating the bigotry, discrimination and hatred that the religious community so often perpetrates against the human race and calling to the attention of the world that we are mad as hell and we are not going to take it.
We are not afraid, and we know things. Terrible things. We will not go quietly into that good night until we have fought with full measure. We can do no less…