It's Not a Choice!
In the beginning of 1997 I got this mail, which I immeditely felt I had to put up on my homepage. It is from an ex-fundamentalist, who expresses the anguish she felt trying to believe in something her mind and reason told her was not true. When I asked for permission to put this up on my homepage, she accepted on the condition that she remained anonymous. To comply with her wishes I have ommitted her name and what city and state she lives in in the USA.
Date: Fri, 03 Jan 1997 22:46:12 -0600
I wanted to comment on your definition of atheism. I was greatly impressed by the quote from Stephen Roberts ["I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.", my comment], and your quote, "Atheist is nothing you choose to be."
Today was my first time "surfing" on the topic of agnosticism and atheism. I suppose this is therapy for me; two years ago I was forced by my own brain to leave the protestant evangelical movement with which I had been involved for 5 long, intense, and tumultuous years. I'll spare you the details; I could write a book on them. Let's just say that it was my INABILITY to CHOOSE to BELIEVE the teachings that I had to eventually leave, much against my own will. I suffered extreme panic attacks for three months due to the struggling to retain my faith and the fear that "the devil was taking away my faith" or that "God was showing me I never had saving faith to begin with" and was therefore doomed to hell for eternity. I doubt one can come closer to fear than that.
I became more obsessed with "apologetics" than I ever had been, trying to find some thread with which I could hold on to my beliefs rationally or philosophically. However, the closer I came to "really believing," the more I felt my brain was on overdrive and I was literally going insane (which I later found out were the panic attacks). My mind would simply not "let me" believe. It was this fact that gave me the most peace (relatively speaking) with leaving the church. Christians say that we must "make a decision" and believe in Jesus Christ and "accept" him into our hearts, etc. The Bible is replete with statements such as these (ie choosing to repent or believe). Well, my final "jab" of proof "against Christianity" was the fact that I COULD NOT CHOOSE TO BELIEVE, IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING I DID TO DO OTHERWISE. I read many "scholarly" books on the reliability of the Bible, the evidence for Christ as God, hours in prayer, hours crying on the phone with people in the church, and too many dollars wasted in what is known as "Biblical Counseling" where they told me my problem was pride.
The "breakthrough" for me came when I was in the middle of a panic attack and my mom knocked on the door, where I was trying desperately to hold onto my sanity. She came in, and I knew I had to tell he what was wrong. I cried, and she cried. She knew it would come to that, and she was so angry for what had happened to me during those years. She saw her daughter become more and more enmeshed in church, Bible Studies, christian books, christian friends (almost exclusively, except for those I was planning on "winning for Christ"), as I would come home from these christian activities and go straight up to my room without hardly a word to her or my father, whom I was supposed to believe were "lost." I'm sure she felt like she lost a daughter.
So I have basically been re-building my life for the past two years. I left all means of support - almost all friends, and my "beliefs" (which I never really accepted completely but tried to). All of this happened while I was in the process of completing college and getting my degree in secondary education and graduating. Needless to say, I sought the help of my doctor's wife, who is a psychotherapist. There it was discovered I have depression and a slight anxiety disorder, which were completely negated as being valid in the church. I am now being treated with medication, which has helped me to become strong, confident, and happy in my new career. I still occasionally have nightmares about the church (vampires [!] representing people in the church), but they are dissipating, along with the whole experience.
All I can say is that if anyone wanted to believe in a loving, all-powerful God that was there for me, it was I. I was a lonely and depressed teenager who did not fit in anywhere, and not many people wanted more than I a Someone to take care of me and "be there" for me and "love me." However, despite this incredible yearning, my mind was even stronger -- it refused to let my emotions overrule my logic. My perception of the world and reality could not "mesh" with the evangelical biblical view of the world any more than someone telling me to believe that one plus one does not equal two. I was NOT rejecting God, or "giving him the finger," (as one church member describes non-believers) -- my mind did not see a logical reason to believe in the god I wanted so desperately to believe in. What kind of god would send someone to eternal condemnation - pain, torture, isolation, etc. - for where their logic happened to take them on their stance on a person from 2000 years ago?
Well, I apologize if this took up more of your time than expected. (It did mine!)
I hope this "story" can be of some use to you in citing specific examples of your position that "atheist [or any belief or lack thereof] is nothing you CHOOSE TO BE."
A far-removed fellow part-swede! [name ommitted, the sender wants to be anonymous]
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File created: January 15, 1997