But That’s Just Me: One Atheist’s Explanation – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

In high school, something happened that puzzled and even frightened me.  It had been going on for a while, but it wasn’t until those later years that I was struck by it — and struck hard.  I found myself befriended, instantly and without any effort on my part, by the most religious students in the school.  This was the pious group, the students who always smiled — the smiles never left their faces — and spoke softly, and they were always “sorry you feel that way.”  They all dressed alike, sounded alike, said and did all the same things, prayed publicly at the drop of a hat, spoke frequently of their “close personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and often asked how yours was going.  If you told them an off-color joke, their smiles would remain but there would be a tension in their eyes that fell somewhere between hurt and threatened.  They sometimes expressed their concern about my interests in movies and horror fiction and told me what I should be interested in instead, adding that they loved me, anyway.

They were always praying for everyone, and they were eager for you to know it.  “I’m praying for you, Ray.”  I never knew how to react to that.  Thank them?  But for what?  I prayed, too; sometimes my prayers seemed to be answered and sometimes they didn’t, and the only consistent thing about the whole process was that it was always completely inconsistent, with no discernible, sensible explanation for any of the results.  Did they want a commendation?  A donation to their favorite charity?  A ribbon?  The only reason I could see for saying they were praying for me was to let me know what righteous and holy people they were for praying for someone like me, who they claimed to love despite my wicked ways.  None of this seemed to serve any god.  It seemed only to serve them.  To me, the words, “I’m praying for you,” always sounded a hell of a lot like, “Look at me!  Look at me!  I’m a good person!”  They still sound like that more than 30 years later, only doubly so.

These students had always been drawn to me, but it wasn’t until high school that I began to wonder why.  They were nice enough, but in all those years, I never thought anything they said or did was genuine.  There was such a sameness about them, as if they were following a memorized script.  Their movements and facial expressions were stiff and robotic and they always had an air of uncertainty about them, as if they weren’t sure they should be doing whatever it was they were doing at any given moment.  They were quite certain, however, about their “close personal relationship” with a man they could not hold a conversation with or even see.

Do they think I’m one of them? I began to wonder. Have my efforts to blend in been too successful?  Have I become one of them?

I began to examine myself a little more closely.  What toll had blending in taken on me?  I knew who I was inside, although nobody else did — not really.  But what had happened to me on the outside?  Had I been hanging around those people so long that I’d been molded into one of them?  The possibility terrified me and made me ask myself an important question:  Do I really believe the things they believe?

I went directly from my high school graduation into college — another Sadventist institution — without a summer break.  But my heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t last long.  I sold my first novel a couple of years later.  Sadventism’s prophet Ellen White wrote that fiction of any kind was bad.  I wrote horror fiction and that was worse.  Most of my friends and fellow Sadventists did not approve.  Apparently, my attempts to blend into the Sadventist subculture really had convinced a good many people that I was a pious, dyed-in-the-wool Sadventist.  It had been my parents’ fondest hope that I would grow up to be a traveling, singing, piano-playing evangelist — something that never for a moment stood the slightest chance of happening.  Apparently, I had bitterly disappointed a lot of people.  My novel’s publication resulted in ostracization, vandalism and an attempt on my life, which my mother told me I’d brought on myself by living such a wicked life filled with comic books, novels, movies and bad TV shows.

After that, I moved into a vodka bottle and resided there for the rest of the decade.  Writing was my escape, my refuge, and it took up most of my time during those years.  I clung to certain aspects of the religion in which I’d been raised, but even as I did so, I knew it was out of fear and not out of sincere belief.

One thing that I could not shake was my terror of the “last days,” which Sadventists instill in their children from the earliest possible age onward.  Sadventist children are told terrifying stories of how the world will end and that it could begin at any moment.  Even in the early years of my relationship with my wife, in moments of end-times panic, I would ask her if she would come with me when it was time to flee to the hills and hide in caves, as I’d been taught from infancy I would someday have to do.

It began to dawn on me that I was still seeing events in the news as “signs of the end,” still losing sleep over a fear of something that collapsed under the weight of logical, critical thought — on the rare occasion when I applied logical, critical thought to it, which I seldom did.  And I was a grown man!  Something had to be done about it, and the only one who could do it — whatever “it” was — was me.  I set out to find the original source of the Sadventist belief in a “national Sunday law.”  I had always been told it came from the book of Revelation, but having read that book myself, I knew that just about anything could come out of that mess.  It reads like it was written by a schizophrenic on a bad acid trip.

And that’s how I began to figure out what I believed — or rather, in the end, what I didn’t believe.  I gradually discovered that much of what I had been taught to believe came from the bible had come instead from the feverish, inebriated and control-hungry mind of Ellen G. White.  That’s because the cult — despite it’s public claims to the contrary — maintains that White is a prophet as significant and infallible as the biblical prophets are believed to be.  It’s now estimated that 80% of her voluminous writings were plagiarized from writers of her day.  She single-handedly created the Sadventist cult with those writings and the “visions” and visitations from angels she claimed god gave her.  All of this is flatly denied by the cult in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Their denial works with the flock because everything they believe to be true is in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, so what’s one more denial of reality?  I began to learn about White all of the things the cult wanted no one to know.  With each new thing I learned, it became clearer that the Seventh-day Adventist church was, from its foundations on up, a lie.

If Sadventism was a lie, then what about Christianity in general?  What about the bible, that book of sadistic, bloodthirsty “love” and Godzilla-sized self-contradictions?  What about god, that entity in whom we are said to trust … even though he can’t seem to abide by his own laws and has a bad habit of wiping people out when he’s in a pissy mood?  I set out to learn what I could about those things and answer all my questions.  I did not set out to prove to myself that god does not exist.  For much of that process, I was, in fact, looking for a reason to believe.

One of the first things I learned was why my teachers and pastors didn’t like the questions I asked back then.  For one thing, they had no good answers to them.  But mostly, asking those questions is like setting dominoes up in a long, elaborate string.  Answering one question honestly knocks the first domino over.  Then they all come tumbling down in a chain reaction.  That last domino on the very end is attached to a curtain that’s pulled aside when the domino falls, revealing the tubby little old man behind it frantically working the rickety controls of the Great and Powerful Oz.

For quite some time, no matter what I learned, I could not give up the idea that there was some kind of god out there somewhere who had created us and was aware of us in some way.  I would come to the very threshold of doing that, but I couldn’t step over it.  My mind would slam into a wall every time I tried.  This was due in large part to that old fear of denying the holy spirit.  More fear, terror and guilt — they had been constant companions for so long, I think I would have been surprised had they not been around to hold me back.  It took time.

After learning about the history of the bible — the historical inaccuracies, the vast amount of tampering and adding that had gone on over time — the ridiculous contradictions began to make sense.  Obviously, it wasn’t the infallible revealed word of god.  It was … well, let’s be honest:  Nonsense.  But what about Jesus Christ?  Was he not the son of god?  Was he perhaps just some anti-establishment troublemaker?

That domino fell, too, as I learned that there are no eyewitness accounts of Jesus Christ, the gospels were written well after he was supposed to have lived and died, and all the historians of that well-recorded time period somehow failed to notice a guy who was born of a virgin, made the blind see, the lame walk and the dead live again.  Not only was there no reason to believe Jesus Christ was the son of god, there was no reason to believe he had ever lived and done any of the things credited to him.  On top of that, I learned Jesus’s story shares an alarming number of details with the stories of earlier pagan gods, especially Mithra.  Ellen White was not alone in her literary theft.

I did not choose to reject belief in god.  I was, quite simply, left with no choice in the matter.  Just like all the other gods laughed at by the believers of today — Zeus, Odin, Thor, Wotan — or the gods of other religions — Allah, Vishnu — Yahweh and Jesus Christ were nothing more than imaginary characters.  The god that had ruled so much of my life was not there.  It was the people who had told me he was there who had ruled my life, and I resented that.  I had been taught to believe in the existence of this god to force me to live and think and react to things in a certain way.  I had been indoctrinated and controlled before I was even old enough to reasonably think it all through on my own — terrified, traumatized and made to believe that I was a worthless blob of wickedness.

That resentment turned to anger, and for a while, I was pretty bitter.  I had been robbed of a happy, healthy childhood and had been filled with guilt, shame and self-loathing I had absolutely no reason to feel.  And I was pretty pissed off about it.  I carried that bitterness with me for a while.  But that stuff’ll kill you.  Carry it around long enough and pretty soon it’s carrying you.  I began to see that I was not alone in being duped.  The same thing had happened to every other person on the planet who had been raised in a religion, any religion, and taught to fear an invisible, unprovable, nonexistent punisher in the sky.

Beyond my anger and resentment came a new consciousness.  I had long been aware of the damage religion does to people, but it’s hard to argue with a system that claims to have behind it the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful creator of the universe.  That changes once you get a good look at the old man behind the curtain.  Then religion becomes nothing more than people terrifying and traumatizing little children, controlling people, making them feel guilty for having certain immutable biological functions or perfectly natural thoughts and desires — making them feel shame for being human! — marginalizing and hating and limiting the rights of other people who do not conform to their rules and discouraging and even condemning real learning and knowledge in favor of ancient texts written by ignorant, superstitious men.

So … I was an atheist.  It did not happen suddenly or without thought.  In fact, it involved a great deal of thought — nothing but thought — over a period of years.  It wasn’t so much a decision as it was the result of a long process.  But that was not the end of the process.

If there was no god, then where did we come from?  How does the world work if it’s not dangling from a string held between the giant thumb and forefinger of a mighty deity?  When I was in school, I was not only taught nothing about evolution, I was constantly told that evolution was a lie planted by Satan himself in the minds of godless men to deceive the world and lure people away from the truth of the bible.

We watched a lot of nature documentaries in my house.  I enjoyed them, but invariably the narrator made reference to “millions” or even “billions” of years.  Every time that happened, Mom would click her tongue and shake her head and Dad would shout, “That’s not true!  Evolution is a lie!  The bible says the world is only six thousand years old!”  Of course, nowhere in the bible is the age of the earth given.  At no time in my life do I remember seeing my dad reading the bible.  He confirmed this every time he started talking about what he thought was in the bible, which he did with irritating frequency.  He was always wrong.

I had given no thought to evolution and, like the overwhelming majority of Christians in the United States, I didn’t have the vaguest clue what it entailed beyond what my church school teachers had taught me about it.  That pretty much amounted to this:  According to Darwin, we evolved from monkeys.  Clearly this is not true because today we can see that monkeys are not turning into people.  When you know absolutely nothing about evolution — I didn’t, and neither did the teachers who were “explaining” it to me — that makes sense.  After I began to educate myself on the subject and became acquainted with the facts, I looked back on that with deep embarrassment.  I’m still educating myself, and I find far more wonder and awe beyond the doors opened by Charles Darwin than I ever found in the magical explanations with which I was raised.

The fact that I don’t believe in god is personal.  That’s just me.  I don’t discuss it much because it’s just not open for debate until someone can provide evidence of god’s existence.  I have no desire to convince anyone else to think the same way as I.  It would be pointless, to say nothing of obnoxious and rude.  Having been on both sides of this fence, I know that belief in god is like being addicted to alcohol or drugs in the sense that one only gives it up if and when one is ready, and no one else can make one ready.  There are evangelizing atheists out there — I’ve encountered some of them — and I find them irritating.  While I understand their zeal, I think their efforts to “convert” are pointless and — to me, anyway — embarrassing.  I’m not one of them.

Religion, on the other hand, is a different issue entirely.  We’ve been brainwashed to believe that religion is always only good and that anything negative associated with religion is solely the fault of misguided individuals and never ever the fault of religion itself.  We aren’t supposed to argue with that idea because we’ve also been brainwashed to believe that it’s wrong to criticize or question religion.  That’s been the norm for ages — everyone mostly remaining silent about religion, tolerating its evils.

The truth is, religion is never good.  There are good people, wonderful people within religion, but they are good in spite of their religion, not because of it, because if they were to do all the things their religion and their holy book told them to do, they’d be hateful bigots and most likely would be in prison.  Religion helps no one but itself.  No matter what it claims to be doing — whether it’s missionary work abroad or outreach and charity work at home — it’s always, without exception, engaging in self-promotion, self-protection and self-propagation.  And no, I’m not talking about all the other religions — I’m talking about yours.  Religion is the most destructive and dehumanizing force on the face of the earth, the worst thing humanity has ever inflicted on itself.

Sure, wars are fought in the name of religions and gods, and multitudes of people are slaughtered.  We all know that, even the religious.  What bothers me more is the less visible damage it does, things seldom blamed on religion even though it is responsible.

At the top of the list of offenses is the undeniable abuse of children in a host of ways.  Teaching little children that there is a god who sees their every action and thought, a god who loves them but will punish them in unspeakable agony for all eternity if they don’t attain some unreachable standard of behavior and unnatural state of purity is abominable.  Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion,” and doing this to children meets that definition.  It is terrorism.  But it’s been going on for so long that we don’t tend to see it that way, especially in a culture in which religion cannot be questioned or criticized.  Indoctrinating children with these beliefs is even seen as a good thing, and it’s not uncommon for people who aren’t religious to subject their children to this abuse so they’ll grow up with some “morality.”

Then there are the children who are allowed to suffer and die of treatable, curable illnesses because of religions that rely only on prayer and faith healing, and the children who, for religious reasons, do not get the simple vaccines available to all.  Parents who do this are, horrifyingly enough, protected by the religious exemptions in child abuse and neglect laws in the United States.

Religion unites no one, including its own believers.  There are over 30,000 different denominations within Christianity because no one can agree on the specifics of the One True Faith, and each denomination believes itself to be correct and all the others wrong.  Just as Jesus himself wanted to do, religion damages and breaks up families, as well as friendships.  It creates an “us and them” mentality, with “us” being everyone who agrees with your particular religion and “them” being everyone else, and everyone else is not just considered wrong, but bad, as if simply not accepting that belief makes them immoral.  Even worse, religion excuses this behavior by making it righteous, by giving it god’s seal of approval.  Religion tells the lie that it is the source of morality — and that is a lie — making itself the arbiter of right and wrong and instantly placing nonbelievers in the “immoral” column.

But the most silent and ignored effect of religion is one of the worst:  It perpetuates ignorance.  I recently had a conversation with one of my very few remaining friends from my Sadventist high school days, a friend I value.  Like me, she was raised in Sadventism, but she isn’t overtly religious now and even sees the damage religion does, especially to children.  But she believes in god.  That hasn’t been an issue between us.  In this conversation, though, she surprised me by saying she prayed for me often.  I told her I appreciated the sentiment.  She said she thought someone was “looking out” for me.  I said I was looking out for me and always had.  Then she said she didn’t understand how I could not believe in god.  I told her of my one requirement before I discuss god with those who believe in him.  “First,” I said, “you have to prove he exists.  If you can’t do that, I’m not going to waste time discussing him.”

“I have proof he exists,” she said.  “I grew a human being in my womb and carried him for nine months.  That’s god.”

I said, “So … you worship your uterus?”

“No, of course not.  I mean that’s my proof that god exists, the fact that we reproduce.”

“That’s not proof god exists.  That’s biology.”

“But who created biology?”

“No one created biology.  There are explanations for virtually every aspect of our existence that do not involve anything supernatural.  Before you say biology is proof of god’s existence, you should look into those explanations.  Read some books about biology and evolution — books written by people who work in those fields, not by people who are trying to discredit them.  Read some Stephen Hawking.”

“Who’s Stephen Hawking?”

Now, this is not a stupid person by any means.  She’s sharp, very intelligent.  But like me, the only explanation she ever got for everything was, “God did it.”  Religion tells us, “This is the answer to everything, so you don’t need to ask anymore questions.”  And most people don’t.  In their early years when their brains were developing rapidly, they were told not only that god created everything in six days, but that science lies.  That’s why, according to a 2010 Gallup poll, only about 16% of Americans accept the idea of “secular evolution.”  And Christians want to shrink that percentage by requiring that the Genesis story of creation be taught in public schools in violation of the Constitution.

The poll points out that education is a factor; among college graduates, belief in creation drops and evolution is accepted by a higher percentage.  I don’t take that to mean those who believe in creation are stupid, just as my friend isn’t stupid.  It means they’ve been taught to reject the findings of science in this one area.  Oh, they’ll take the drugs their doctor prescribes.  They’ll listen to scientific evidence that this or that activity or substance causes cancer.  They’ll take advantage of the many conveniences in their lives that have been put there by science.  But when it comes to evolution?  Science is lying!  This is because religious indoctrination has crippled their ability to think critically and logically in certain areas — and in some cases, in all areas.

If you told believers that the earth is made of dough that slowly baked and rose in the heat of the sun, they’d be smart enough to say you’re loopy.  But because of their early indoctrination, they would find it extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to see that there is no more proof of the Genesis story of creation than there is of the “baked earth” story.  They accept the creation story because as children, they were taught evolution is a lie, so they don’t even bother to take a closer look, or even a casual look.  That’s not stupidity, it’s learned ignorance, one of the most harmful things religion does to people.

To recap: The things I was taught to believe as a child made no sense to me, so I went in search of answers, which led me out of belief entirely.  My realization of how harmful my religion was expanded to an awareness that all religion is equally harmful.  And that has landed me where I am now.  Where is that?

Well, I don’t awake gasping or screaming from nightmares about the “time of trouble” anymore.  While it may be disturbing, the news no longer sends me into panic attacks over that coming “time of trouble.”  I no longer waste a precious second wondering if I’ll go to heaven or be damned.  Without the lazy out of forgiveness from Jesus, I’m responsible for the wrongs I do and I must make them right and face the consequences, which has made me far more conscious of the feelings and welfare of others.  I don’t do good things because I feel I must in order to please god and receive a heavenly reward — or more importantly, to avoid the agonizing punishment prepared for me by a loving god — I do them because it gives me pleasure to do them, because doing them improves my life, the lives of others and, in a small way, the world in general, and because sometimes they simply need to be done and should be done.

A friend of mine thinks that belief is genetic.  She thinks you’re either born a believer or you aren’t, that some people simply don’t have it in them to believe.  Looking back over my life, I seem to be one of those people.  Had I not been indoctrinated from birth into a religion, I don’t think it’s something I ever would have gotten involved in.  Even with the indoctrination, it didn’t work for me.  It never made sense.

At the same time, I know people who have a deep-seated need to believe in something, anything.  For them, there must be some unseen, unknowable explanation for everything, something we can’t fully understand because it’s mystical and magical and so mind-blowingly wonderful that it’s beyond our comprehension.  My first girlfriend was raised a strict Sadventist and used to get angry with herself because she had problems with the with the church, but didn’t know what else to believe in.  She was the kind of person who, upon seeing an interesting cloud formation, would say, “Good work, god!”  Now she’s some kind of new age counselor out in the California desert and tells people that every time their digital clock reads 11:11, angels and/or benevolent space aliens are sending them a message of hope.

That sounds harmless enough on the surface.  But what happens when reality conflicts with a belief system that’s not grounded in reality?  What happens when the believer rejects reality in favor of the belief?  Nothing good.  And one of the worst results is willful ignorance, which spans a spectrum of danger ranging from risky to deadly.  At best, that rejection of reality only harms the believer, but too often it affects others — especially if the believer is in a position of leadership and power, like, oh, I don’t know, um … the White House?  As far as I’m concerned, leaders can believe whatever they want on their own time, but when leading, they should have a close, personal relationship with reality.

But, hey, that’s just me.  All of it.  The whole thing you just read.  It’s just me.  I honestly don’t care what you believe.  I strongly support the right of everyone to believe whatever they please, whatever works for them.  I’m much more interested in what you know than what you believe, in what kind of person you are and what makes you happy.  If you can’t get through a conversation without repeatedly bringing up your religious beliefs, then we probably won’t be having any further conversations.  If your religious beliefs move you to condemn or mistreat others and you do that in my presence, we will have at least one conversation, but it will be short and won’t end with an exchange of email addresses.

I’m really not out to offend anyone, I can’t stress that enough.  But if you’re comfortable talking about your religious beliefs with everyone, then you need to be comfortable with the fact that some of those people are going to tell you what they think of your religious beliefs and it’s not always going to be good.  If you fall apart at the seams when that happens, then perhaps you should come to grips with the fact that your religious beliefs are not great conversation-starters and perhaps have become a bit unhealthy for you.

Now you know, my friend.  Now we don’t have to have that conversation in which you say, probably more than once, “I just don’t understand how you can not believe in god.”  Knowing what I know, I don’t understand how you can.  But the fact that I don’t doesn’t mean I’m an immoral, heartless, self-centered monster who believes life is meaningless and we’re all nothing but future worm food.  And the fact that you do doesn’t mean that you have to beat me over the head with a bible and threaten me with hell, and that belief does not automaticallymake you a good person or give you any kind of license to engage in bad behavior because you think your god wants you to.  We’re both human beings with more similarities than differences.

I think there’s one thing we can all agree on no matter what our backgrounds.  This is the one life we all know with certainty that we have.  It doesn’t last very long and we share it with those around us.  Anything that comes between us, divides us, creates animosity between us is not conducive to a happy, productive life.  Those things that bring us together improve us not only individually but as a whole.  Personal beliefs that are truly positive, productive and loving will never get in the way of that.

About Ray Garton

I am the author of more than 60 books, including the horror novels LIVE GIRLS, CRUCIFAX, LOT LIZARDS and THE LOVELIEST DEAD, and the thrillers SEX AND VIOLENCE IN HOLLYWOOD, MURDER WAS MY ALIBI, TRADE SECRETS, TRAILER PARK NOIR, and my newest thriller, MEDS Please visit my website for more information: http://www.raygartononline.com
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20 Responses to But That’s Just Me: One Atheist’s Explanation – Part 2

  1. Pingback: But That’s Just Me: One Atheist’s Explanation – Part 1 | Atheist Oasis – A Rational Refuge

  2. Paula Apú says:

    This story is incredibly inspiring, I absolutely loved it!

    “Knowing what I know, I don’t understand how you can.”

    I loved that quote, it is truly very hard to understand belief in gods. I try to be as respectful as possible but sometimes it is just too much and I lash out at close-minded religious people. I know it’s wrong, but it’s like reality is right in front of them and they are blinded to it. I think perhaps it’s not their fault, they were indoctrinated, after all. But someone like you, who despite your parents’ zealotry managed to crawl out of the mess, tells me that it is possible to be critical and thoughtful despite your childhood fears. Luckily, though most people in my country are Catholics, they are pretty nice about it and atheism, though frowned upon, doesn’t get you humiliated, friendless, and shunned from your social environment.

    My question is regarding your parents. Now that you are an atheist and so blatantly reject their horrible church, do you have a good relationship with them? Do they know? If they do, do they talk to you at all?

    Great read, inspirational. Props ;)

  3. Ray Garton says:

    Thank you, Paula! My relationship with my parents only deteriorated over the years and in 2008, I finally had to shut the door on it altogether for a little while, just to give myself some peace. They live only four miles from me, but for about a year, I stayed away and let them know I didn’t want to hear from them. Then I slowly reconnected, but only in small ways and on my terms. My dad died last year and I did everything I could to help my mother through that. She and I are in touch now and I’ve made myself available to her because she’s alone and 80 years old.

    I have never told her that I’m an atheist and I have no plans to. We do not discuss religion in any way, shape or form — one of the conditions I imposed on our relationship. One would think she could deduce that, and maybe she has, but I’ve learned that in some situations, saying it out loud changes things drastically. A couple of years ago, for example, I mentioned in passing to one of my closest friends in the world for more than 30 years that I do not believe in god and we no longer speak. His choice, not mine. He knew my feelings about religion, about god, about all of that — but I had never said out loud that I specifically did not believe in god. When I did, he turned on me. For some people, it’s a line that, once crossed, cannot be uncrossed.

    If I were to tell my mother I’m an atheist, she would completely go off a cliff. It would become her biggest priority in the time she has left to win me back to Jesus, and that would not turn out well. I don’t see her that much and have no compelling reason to tell her what should be obvious. In fact, there’s good reason not to. She doesn’t read anything I write (and never has), so she’s not getting the information from my work. That’s fine with me. The most important people in my life know and they either see it as a positive thing or they just don’t care.

  4. HollyEva says:

    You. Are. My. Hero. Your “But That’s Just Me” series will remain a permanent part of my email file – I will read them over and over. Thank you so much for devoting the time and energy to think it all through and write it all down. Reading your words is like being hugged and validated by someone who REALLY UNDERSTANDS. I so want to share your website with family and friends, but my husband has pleaded with me not to. How sad and ironic is that. We non-believing heathens worry about causing anguish to those who love us and who are still praying for us; but concern for our feelings doesn’t seem to enter their minds – they rarely hestitate to lecture us about how wrong and doomed we are.

  5. Ray Garton says:

    HollyEva, you’ve made me a little misty-eyed! Thank you. Actually, I wrote the article hoping that it might be useful to others as a way of conveying how they felt. I agree wholeheartedly with you that we are expected to make no waves, but we are so often — regularly, in fact — the target of criticism, condemnation and sermonizing from the very people we are supposed to avoid offending. With the exception of my mother (see my post above in this comment thread), I am wide open about my convictions. I’ve learned from hard experience that it’s best to find out as soon as possible who really cares about me and who doesn’t. If the fact that I am not a believer moves someone to anger or if they reject me because of it, then there’s really not much caring involved and I’d like to learn that sooner rather than later. Thank you so much for your comment.

  6. Great post, great post! Well written and thought out. Agreed with 99% of what you said. I’d have a small quibble in that right now I’m in a place where I do care what others believe, as I think the question of whether there are some beliefs/ideas that are too dangerous to hold, but that’s a question for another day.

  7. Ray Garton says:

    I agree with you, Justin, that some beliefs are extremely dangerous. And I do care very much about beliefs in a general sense. But when I’m dealing personally with people, that’s not my focus. I’m much more interested in the personality and the person than in the beliefs. If I’m dealing with someone who holds dangerous beliefs, more often than not, that’s reflected in his or her personality and it comes out before I even know what that person’s specific beliefs are, and … well, I never claimed to get along with EVERYONE.

  8. Joe Ammel says:

    Thank you for this article, Ray. I know how you meant it, but it’s not “just” you. In fact, that’s why I found your thoughts so personally touching. They’re the closest I’ve ever seen to someone expressing a journey so similar to my own.

    I was born and raised into the Worldwide Church of God, founded by a charlatan, Herbert W. Armstrong, who I believe to have been mentally ill, and who plagiarized the main body of his own cult’s beliefs from the Seventh Day Adventists. There are so many parallels between our stories it would be exhausting to list them all. Suffice it to say, where you are, having apparently made a peace with your past and discovery of the mad lies of your own childhood cult’s false prophet, is where I struggle to be. I only recently came into further knowledge and understanding of Armstrong’s history and nature, and every detail still hurts, more than I feel it should.

    Where our stories are most similar is the deep ingraining of the fear of the Apocalypse. For me and my cult, it was named “The Great Tribulation.” The teachings of it were never consistent. Some said we would be spirited to Petra. Others said we would be in a kind of “middle heaven” between Heaven and Earth. I remember as a child listening to one sermon where we were told this horrific story from the perspective of a Tribulation survivor in God’s “Place of Safety,” where he and his fellow members of “The Church” (our church) were basically stuck in a hole, fed scraps from above, and had to defecate in the open. … And this is where God’s People were supposedly going to be kept safe! Just one of the many nightmare scenarios beaten into my mind, and the minds of 150,000 others, by those mental/spiritual rapists.

    I am amazed sometimes how incredibly different my perspective is today. The more I learn about Nature and the Universe, the more I feel a connection to it…after all, I AM it, and it is ME–something I never could’ve comprehended in my spiritual servitude. I realize now that no matter how alone I might feel now and then, I never really am. That is an incredible feeling, knowing and feeling my place in the world I was taught to fear, and despise, and distrust, and segregate myself from.

    And like you, I’ve yet to “come out” to my parents. I go through phases of feeling sure it would only be right, but then realizing that that decision may actually cost me my relationship with them. Are they better off not knowing? Even if I could actually talk them into reality, would they be able to tolerate the transition as I have? Or would it break them? These are tough questions and I don’t expect to find my answers soon. I at least know the reality that I owe no cosmic being “the truth,” which is a human concept to begin with, not a mystical body out there somewhere in the Universe that we tap into when we do what our Heavenly Thought Dictator wills us. I only owe myself, and those I love, the most good and least damage possible, and I owe this by CHOICE. (Now there’s a word I never understood before!)

    Okay, enough rattling on from me. Thank you, again, for taking the brave step of revealing your thoughts, commitments, realizations and beliefs to the world. It is only by people this brave that others may be freed.

  9. Ray Garton says:

    Thank you, Joe. I’m familiar with Armstrong. He’s well known among Sadventists as the man who stole and perverted their truth — which is hilarious, if you ask me.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I understand your hesitation to tell your parents. I didn’t decide not to tell them to avoid hurting them or even to avoid losing my relationship with them — that was already destroyed long ago by the Sadventist cult. I made that decision for my own good. I never hid from them how I felt about their cult. As I learned the truth about Sadventism and its prophet, I shared the information with them liberally. They, of course, were convinced I was being deceived by false information. But it was certainly information that made them uncomfortable, information they did NOT want to hear, and after a while, they avoided the subject of their religion in order to avoid hearing more of it. When my dad died, Mom asked me how I felt about having his funeral in the local Sadventist church. I told her if that was what she wanted to do, she should do it, but I wouldn’t attend. She then loaded and cocked her guilt gun and said tremulously, “You would stay away from your own dad’s funeral?” I said, “If it were held in the church, yes. I’ll never step foot in an Adventist church again, or in any other church. But do whatever you want.” She ended up having the funeral at the veteran’s cemetery where he was buried. She knows how I feel about her religion in particular and all religion in general, but I think she still clings to the belief that I believe in god. I allow her to do that only to save MYSELF the ugliness that would follow if she knew the truth. I decided I owed that to myself — I’ve had more than enough ugliness from my parents and their religious cult for one lifetime. I just don’t need any more.

    I hope your decision is based on what’s best for YOU. If it is to your benefit not to tell them, then don’t. But if it weighs heavily on you and would bring you some kind of peace to tell them, then you should. How they react is not your responsibility. You will not be causing them any pain — not one OUNCE of whatever they feel will be coming from you. It will come from THEIR decision to cling to their cult and to place it above their relationship with you. I know it might be painful for you at first, but if you need that liberation, then do it. It will feel wonderful once you’ve done it, I assure you. You should do whatever will advance your continuing journey to freedom. That journey never really ends. I still find residue of my past life clinging to me like a slime. When I find it, I remove it immediately. I think that will always be the case for those of us who were born into religion.

    Are you the moderator of the Facebook page you linked? I just joined the page. I’m on Facebook as well and will be visiting your page. Thank you again for posting.

  10. Ray, thank you for laying out so clearly your journey out from the darkness of indoctrinated belief into the light of what is factual and true and real. That it is hard to know even the smallest truths is no excuse for blinding ourselves to them or failing to make the effort; for substituting what we believe for what the evidence would show us, if only we would look. My journey is similar to yours. Many years after leaving Sadventism, I’m still waking up to certain aspects of how my mind and ability to think critically were damaged by the well-intended but mind-destroying indoctrination of my childhood, when I was powerless to resist. You have a vivid imagination, as do I, and it was fueled by these fictions, presented as truths by people we trusted. Ironically, any good novel has more truth in it than the view of the world and our place in it programmed into our brains when we were too young to know any better.

    Two quick examples: Decades after leaving Sadventism, I realized that the very idea that any being worthy of the name “God” would want us to worship him was not only absurd but foul. Wanting to be worshipped is the desire of a Pharaoh, and it’s no coincidence that pharaohs existed when the old testament was written. Watching old newsreels of Hitler addressing huge rallies, thousands of people raising their arms in salute to him, chanting, “Sieg heil, sieg heil,” or, as individuals, saluting him and each other with “Heil Hitler,” a circuit finally closed in my mind and I realized that the desire to be worshipped, something we revile in a man, could hardly be a characteristic of a god.

    Likewise, it took me years to realize that, were I to end up in heaven, I would not only be miserable, I would not even be me. The idea of spending an endless day, with no darkness, no moonlight, worshipping and adoring God and singing his praises all the time, for eternity, would, even if I could enjoy it for a few minutes or an hour, soon turn into the sheerest, numbing torture. We are not made, and we certainly are not evolved for such abject monotony of existence, and yet I accepted this vision of spending an eternity in worship and did my best to embrace it as a good thing for many, many years. A guy who could actually do such a thing would not be me. He would not be any of us. What does my long failure to realize this say about what was done to the more rational parts of my mind while it was just starting to form?

    These are only two quick examples of what I mean by the darkness of religion, and there are so many more, each to be discovered in our long journey out of the brainwashing. You have provided an invaluable service, Ray, by charting your own course and showing us that we are not alone. Thank you for this touching and stirring account.

  11. Brooklyn Boy says:

    That bit about a “close personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is one of the creepiest aspects of this particular mental disorder. The way I see it, if your most important “personal relationship” is with somebody whose been dead for 2,000 years, I really don’t want to know anything else about your social life.

  12. Boris Lazic says:

    Dear Ray, the more I read your essays, the more I think it is about time (for us, artists & writers with SDA religious or cultural backgrounds) to redescover what’s been written in literature about adventist chilhood. As far as I now (but I live between France and Serbia, so my knowledge on American literature is certainely fragmentary ) Richard Whrigt’s “Black Boy” gives a broad approach on the topic. Your writing put an end to a certain type of loneliness. Thank you for that. Boris

  13. Mark says:

    This was a very informative and well-written post Ray. Being raised Catholic I can relate to the guilt of questioning my religion, and most of this came from my continued education with science and astronomy. Like you it was a long slow process to give up such thoughts that had been embedded since childhood. I agree with you that such fables taught to impressionable children are a form of child abuse. I also believe that the whole Santa Claus fable is a pre-req for the adult version of an all seeing deity that will bring one gifts if only they believe.

    If an adult believes in Santa Claus we will lock them away…if that same adult believes in a Santa Claus type deity named God…we will vote them president.
    We as a species have a long way to go since most cannot see the similarities in the fable of Santa Claus and God.

  14. HollyEva says:

    Boris – that would be an interesting research project! It certainly would need to include poor Shirley Mason, aka “Sybil.” Talk about an abused child, both of whose parents were Seventh-day Adventists. Of course, as my mother still tells me, we shouldn’t look to other people as examples – only to Jesus.

  15. Enoch Sherman says:

    I join in the chorus here of admiration for your clear, concise and moving personal saga, Ray. As with Joe, I can’t begin to count the parallels with my own path. I only regret that my awakening took many more years than yours. And, like you, I avoid slapping those with whom I am close with things that will only hurt them and not help me. However, I draw the line on having to listen to them attempt to chastise me either overtly or covertly. I believe that if we don’t speak up when someone lauds willful ignorance, we share in the blame that their ignorance causes. And trying to pass off myth as fact is a shining example of willful ignorance, in my opinion.

  16. ChuckA says:

    Thanks, Ray.
    Reading both parts of your excellent account of your personal, childhood indoctrinated, Christian upbringing and subsequent escape(?) reminds me very much of my own, right from birth, Roman Catholic indoctrination; and long progression to atheism.
    Basically, IMO, it’s all a case of UNRECOGNISED child abuse.

    The first thing most of us are taught, is to…
    BELIEVE…without ANY evidence; when we should be taught, IMO, to THINK…and NOT to accept anything without evidence. Without that, the socalled “Age of Reason” is nothing more than a number. And, I’m reminded of the old, Catholic, Jesuit saying:
    “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man!”
    For an overwhelming majority, I think, that holds true…indeed, for an entire lifetime. I know, in my case, for every family member, old friend, and even old associates and acquaintances…that’s been the case.

    OK…pardon me if a ramble, just a bit…?
    IMHO, The Bible, the Koran…and of course the Book of Mormon (Morons?); not to mention (Oops!) Scientology, etc. ALL contain absolutely NO actual, positive, or certainly USEFUL knowledge.
    On the contrary, just taking Christianity, as one example of blatant (and even dangerous?) LACK of useful knowledge (think microbes, etc.?)…
    Why, f’rnstance, didn’t Jesus introduce humans to electricity in his (supposed) Sermon on the Mount?
    What!…ala Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”; Jesus being introduced, of course, by Mary, saying to the crowd:
    “No matter what anyone says…
    He’s been a VERY naughty boy!” ;)

    Coming, of course, right after “Blessed are the cheesemakers”?:
    Like, “Blessed are the electricians; for they shall bring you…(insert long list of shtick, like automobiles, stereos, TV’s, etc.)…and air conditioning and even…erm…
    [Imagine, here, a Wide-eyed audience reaction?]
    ala “Confuse-an-audience”?
    (anyone remember Python’s “Confuse a cat” sketch?)

    Seriously, folks, try to imagine this world as it MIGHT have been, if there had been absolutely NO child indoctrinating tribal religions…EVER.
    And, as to morality and the assumption that humans, somehow, NEED religion in order to be moral; here’s an older YouTube of Sam Harris on C-Span from 11/16/05:
    “Sam Harris: The Link Between Religion And Morality”:

  17. ChuckA says:

    One more try on that Hitchens YouTube link…Sorry for those empty comment errors.

    [BTW, Is anyone moderating? Sorry guys, but, since late last night, the comment input “gadget” seems to be…somewhat…different (or haven’t I been paying attention?)…and/or possibly f*cked up a bit.
    If possible, maybe one of you “moderators” (HELLO?) could get rid of my rather ‘empty’, extra, comment spaces…?
    Or, at least…explain?
    Of course, I say that with a… :)

  18. Ing says:

    Ever see the show Futurama? The “Dark One” from one of the movies reminded me of God. An alien mental presence that read the minds of any living being in the universe at any time…and can kill you at will if it doesn’t like what it finds. The show was a comedy but that concept seemed like one of the scariest things imaginable to me.

  19. Justin says:

    What a great read! My father was raised Pentacostal and from what I have heard from him he had a similar difficulty avoiding tough questions in church and in sunday school. To my understanding at one point the preacher preached a sermon directly against him and his soon to be wife (my mother) and my dad got ticked and told the preacher what he thought of him and left. As soon as he graduated high school he left to go to college in a different town and pretty much never looked back. They had my brother and I while we lived there and took us to church a couple of times but it was basically to give us the choice and of course we chose not to continue because we were kids and well, why would we want to go? I was always taught to question everything! I am always hungry to learn more about how things work and am never satisfied taking things at face value. I am so happy I was never put through all that he was. Looking in to that world from the outside, having never been indoctrinated myself, It all seems so obvious that it is not true. I actually have a really hard time understanding how anyone could believe. I tried to read the bible like you would read any other novel, from page one to the end, when I was about thirteen and was so repulsed and put off by what I was reading that I didn’t make it very far into the old testament before I had to stop reading it. I never finished it, I had seen enough. Not only was it bad literature, it was full of hateful vile behavior. Even so I feel the effects of their religious background. My upbringing was always ruled by guilt. It was always the motivation for everything. It is unconsious baggage in his upbringing that carrried over to mine. I hope more and more people continue to wake up to reality, it’s just a shame so many have to first endure the kind of mental torture that you had to endure. Lennon’s Imagine almost always makes me tear up a bit when I hear it. It really would be such a beautiful thing if we all put our full effort into the one life we know for a fact we have.

  20. It’s really sad so many people have to keep their atheism a secret. I don’t go around boasting about it, but if it comes up, I’m pretty open. The way I see it, if you’re going to lose a relationship with someone over something so trivial, good riddance!

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