Atheist Analysis Presents the “Personal Journey Series” – Jonny Brotherton
From kindergarten through high school I went to a Christian private school where I participated in and eventually lead weekly chapel services. During the summers I was always in a church Bible school or participating in a Christian sports camp. As I grew older I started volunteering to support these events and participated in global mission trips. Every week I sacrificed ten percent of my income to the church and throughout my childhood created several small not for profit campaigns to fund Christian mission opportunities for others. Monday nights were visitation. We would travel to those who recently visited our church, invite them back, and on occasion discuss the Christian gospel. If there was a Christian gathering I was there; Awanas, VBS, Fall Festival, Christmas Concert, Easter Play, you name it. Every Wednesday night was our youth gathering and when I graduated, that became college group on thursdays, where I picked up supporting the audio/video department for middle school. Soon, I was managing our media services for elementary, middle school, high school, college, and even corporate services in a church of over five thousand members. I participated in a band that led worship music for the elementary and middle school departments. I led Christian small groups for middle school students and participated in college campus Bible studies.
My grandfather, based on a desire to present the Christian gospel, introduced himself to a primitive culture in Chad, Africa. They had no written language and had never seen a white man before. He designed and created a viable and durable writing system accompanied by vigorous efforts to promote the use of the language and validate the culture with which it was associated. He then translated the Bible into their new language and established a local church that facilitated educational and religious initiatives. The writing systems he developed account for many of the African languages still in existence today and spread the Christian gospel to hundreds of thousands of native Africans. My grandfather had a daily routine that started at 6am every day. He would spend an hour in prayer and a personal Bible study. At 7am his wife would join and together they would pray and study the Bible. From 8am-10am the rest of the family would gather together to study the Bible. He would finish with a prayer that would last almost half an hour.
My father was a missionary’s son. He was born in Canada then raised in a boarding school that was funded by Christian religious organization in america. Upon reaching adulthood the family visited their american sponsors. Here he met my mother and settled near a local church that my grandfather was appointed pastor. He began leading groups of believers in detailed Bible studies and eventually pastored in several different churches. To this day he continues to support Christian missions around the globe and regularly attends a large church, as a participant.
My mother led the preschool department for the most prestigious church in the Florida and then took on an opportunity to develop a church in Georgia. She facilitated the growth from less than a hundred members to over five thousand in 7 years and eventually became the administrative assistant to to the pastor, a very prestigious role within the local Christian community. Her next venture led her to establish a non profit organization, supported by the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, funded by the largest church in the southeast. The organization facilitates Christian mission trips in the most demographically unforgiving and politically volatile parts of the world. She actively facilitates, participates in, and even leads these initiatives today.
My belief carried over into my teenage years and eventually adulthood. I was a Gnostic Theist. Or so I genuinely thought. But I was actually closer to a 99.99999% Agnostic Theist. Without knowing it. I would have taken a bullet to the head over it. I even remember one of my happiest teenage moments was hearing my best friend say he believed in God. I actually cried over it because I was so excited.
I started working at the largest mega-church in the southeast producing missions videos, on their video department “Floor”. My bills were taken care of, I had great health, great relationships, a nice car, house—I had it all. Everything was perfect. My life was simple. I had community. I had friends. I had support. I had a loving mother and father. I had every need taken care of.
Nothing bad happened to me. Nobody “died”. Whatever it is that people think happens… I get asked all the time “What Happened?” from religious fundamentalists and I don’t think they really accept the answer. Rational Thinking happened. Skeptical Inquiry happened. Someone cared about me enough to question my beliefs. Heres what happened:
I met someone who was an Open Atheist…
I used to hang out with him and watch him debate Christians. Many a time I would just listen, silently, but have very little to say because I did not know where I stood on the subject, some of these conversations and questions had never been brought up to me.
I became good friends with this Atheist. Video Games after work, long discussions. A lot of me trying to refute what he was saying, with my own beliefs. Tirelessly he came after me with more and more and more information.
Eventually I realized that a large portion of the things I held to be true were inaccurate and at some point I decided to start looking at all of my beliefs as a whole, and the nature of belief in general.
The Atheist recommended that I read a book called “The God Delusion”, I watched 100s of hand selected videos from YouTube and spent countless hours of wikipedia jumping from article to article on the topic, deeper and deeper. I stumbled upon WhyDoesntGodHealAmputees.com and practiced some of their basic proofs. I read another book by Sam Harris “The Moral landscape”. I watched several major debates on youtube (The God Debate, The God Debate 2, Dawkins vs Lennox, and others) I watched Bart Ehrmans Stanford Address on the validity of the New Testament. A few 100 videos later, and multiple discussions with my Atheist friend (who also has a masters degree in Physics).. and I told myself I wasn’t sure anymore…
Even after all of that I still wasn’t ready to call myself an Atheist. Atheist was a dirty word where I grew up. I had had these beliefs since childhood and believed them my entire life. This was the first time I really started wondering if what I had believed was true, I mean, so much of it has already been proved wrong by these damn Atheist… Which parts of my beliefs actually are true?? I had been reinforced by those who believed the same thing as me my entire life, but was it actually true? I mean, these people had no reason to lie to me.
I started to see a lot of videos about logic that Christians used to justify their beliefs and remembered a lot of things I had been taught in Church, Sunday School, Monday nights, Wednesday nights, weekend events, church camps, etc… One specific example was how the banana was perfectly “designed” for humans… Wow… In retrospect, what a load of crap. For the first time, I realized there are people out there that disagree with these things that I had been taught were fundamental truths. Nice people, smart people, more qualified people…
After maybe 6-8 months or so of wrestling to find just 1 belief that remained from my childhood I found no space left in my belief system. No faith left in a justifiable existence of my god, much less any other gods.
I didn’t have a single piece of evidence. So I talked to my buddy more and more and really starting asking a lot of questions. Almost reconstructing a lot of the things I had never thought of before. Finding out what the Atheist thinks about the things I used to think. I was by definition an Atheist, but I wasn’t ready to call myself an Atheist yet.. “I mean, an Atheist?? Thats like the worse thing ever. But, uh oh… If I don’t believe in God… that means if I’m wrong I go to hell… but crap.. I don’t believe!! What do I do???”
Thats when I started to get REALLY serious, searching for that piece of evidence that I could cling to that would prove God’s existence. I searched and searched. I watched countless Christian and Atheist videos. I went back to my Christian faith momentarily, using any piece of “evidence” I could, so I could temporarily protect my eternity, but then I would mention this new “evidence” to my Atheist friends and they showed me where I was mistaken. Boy, was I ever wrong, and I learned that a lot. Eventually I realized that the fear of hell isn’t really valid if God doesn’t exist.
By this point in time I was technically some variation of an old earth creationist who believed god created the big bang…etc.. etc… my god was shrinking drastically and biblical truth was right with it, shrinking and shrinking smaller and smaller. I took these new ideas again, to my Atheist friends, and also back to the wealth of the internet that I was getting pretty accustomed too. Again I was met with dismay, that these ideas were either downright wrong, or fallacious. They didn’t make logical sense…. not for the world as we see it.
They may have been fine, but in the world as I was coming to know it, these ideas and justifications definitely did not make sense. I said to myself , “I think I AM actually an Atheist”. Two weeks later I told my sister because I wasn’t ready for the wrath of my parents. The next day both of them called me… “Who would have known my sister would tell them?”
Boy, did I get an earful and even some wisdom regarding reasons for belief. Some that I hadn’t heard in my past months of discovery… This was great because my parents have so much experience in the field and years of Christianity, they had some great ideas!
About this time the DVD’s, Hate Mail, Books, Tapes, you name it started coming in from everywhere. My honest questions on FB were met with offense and anger. I received over 20 Christian DVD’s, 6 pieces of “We are disappointed mail”, 20 Books, and 2 CD series, all Christian literature. Some of the DVD’s were science based, like opposing evolution, etc… I watched every minute of every DVD. Read every word of every book. By this time I had reread the Bible, cover to cover, twice. I listened to the CD’s as well, although they were downright boring. I had gotten a few Atheist books on audio as well. At this point, I could watch the Christian DVD’s and recognize the mistakes and errors almost immediately.
I consider myself a quick learner and the amount of information I digested was absolutely insane.
Shortly after my months of questioning and coming out as an official “Atheist”, one of my good friends, with whom I’d had similar discussions about science and religion, comes to me and says “I am starting to question some things”. He was the Christian Leader of his college and had a similar Christian upbringing. He dove into some of the same things I did and later “came out” as an Atheist as well.
Still fighting the certainty that I was risking eternity in hell, an insidious and pervasive belief to try to escape, I continued my search… for 3 years… and spent over 8 hours every single day reviewing Christian and Atheist literature.
I even went to church several times as an Atheist to experience what church is like without the mindset of a Christian. What I found was a burgeoning horror at the extent to which the Christian teachings encourage judgement and bigotry. Homophobia, mysogyny, “slaves. accept your masters – these are terrible things to indoctrinate children with.
I watched movies like “The God Who Wasn’t There” and “Jesus Camp”.
I talked to more Christians and received more Christian theology in 4 years then in the 23 years before that.
Eventually, I met a girl, Our first date was realllllly interesting… Typical Dinner and a Movie rounded up with an “Oh, by the way I am an Atheist, guess that means we can’t date anymore…” — To my excitement, she was ok with it and we enjoyed talking about our beliefs together. Turns out her father was a pastor at a church, WHOOPS! Some time had gone by and we found out we were pregnant! Double Whoops! A little scary at first but the fear turned into excitement as we started planning. Somewhere along the line we started to discuss things like taking the baby to church and baptisms. She was adamant about bringing our baby to a baptist church every week. I mentioned that I would prefer if the baby could experience all sorts of different churches and religions, and thats where it started to go south. Not the good south with the cornbread, fried chicken, and collards; the bad south. It became a real spike in our relationship.
The belief in god thing, or lack thereof, became a seemingly insurmountable problem and she cut off all communication and left back home, 3,000 miles away in Alaska of all places. This was the true horror of uncompromising ideals based on indoctrination rather then reason.
After the baby was born we began talking again. There happened to be other Atheists in Alaska who had some meaningful conversations and opinions on the topic and it really tore down some of the religious walls that were built between us. She ended up moving back and after watching 100s of episodes of The Atheist Experience for fun at night, one day she turned to me and said “I think I am an Atheist”.
Things were going great with family life, we ended up getting married, having a second child, and now our third is on the way. Its great to be out on the other side. It was really hard when she left, and why she left.
Recently, I started Atheist Analysis and things have been going really well. I guess its kind of my attempt to somehow provide others with the support I found when going to the Atheist Community. It wasn’t enough, I still wanted to (and still much much more) to find a way to give back and make the world a better place, so I started Grillin’ With Atheists! A grill for the homeless event helping to encourage a positive opinion of Atheism.
I told my father about Grillin’ With Atheists and his simple plain stated response was something along the lines of, “I can never be proud of you son, because of your Atheism.” The rigid refusal of religion to accept the possibility of goodness in atheists, even from my own family, drives me even harder to do good things for people, in the name of Atheism, because we are good people. Kind people. Fair people. We love just like everyone else. We laugh, we cry, we live, we die. -We are honest. Honest about reality. We are Atheists. Matt Dillahunty put it well, “I want to believe as many true things about the world as possible and not believe as many false things.” -That’s me. But, to take it a step further, I do this because, someone did it for me. I appreciated it, greatly. I don’t want others to have to go through what I did, and if they do… I will be there to support them.
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