Thanks for clicking on the link or finding this thread. However you got here, I’m happy that you’re here. I wanted to start this “mini-series” to share some of my stories and talk about some stuff. There seems to be a narrative running amok in conservative circles that criticize liberal arts colleges for “corrupting the youth of America.” I have to be honest with you, my views and opinions certainly changed during my time in school but I don’t feel particularly corrupted.
Here are a few stories about my time in school (and please read this next bit with some lighthearted sarcasm) and how I was brainwashed and liberalized by a radical agenda. If you are interested in this series please feel free to like, share, and subscribe to this blog.
Part 1: Christian Cracks in my Shield of Faith
Conservative Christian circles routinely lament the persecution of traditional ideas on college campuses. I’m excited to talk about this one because for a good chunk of my life, I was very Christian. I was raised in a conservative home where faith and hard work were celebrated. Boys like me were expected to grow up to be capable leaders for their future wives and to be relentless warriors for all that is true and good about the Bible.
As excited as I am to tell this story, this one is kinda tricky for me to write down. It’s tricky because I still don’t exactly know who this story is for, or rather who would want to read it. Christians certainly won’t want it. Christian media, like every other kind of niche media, want stories with crispy fine edges that wrap up neatly at the end—especially if that ending is how they had an “ah ha!” God moment and changed their lives forever after that.
It certainly isn’t for liberals. Even though I consider myself to be one, I am after all a straight white man oozing a lot of undeserved privilege. Plus, there’s no big headline here that you can post to your newsfeed. It probably won’t make you feel warm and vindicated. It doesn’t make a case against Christian values or beliefs. It’s just a story and I am just a person.
It probably goes without saying that I’ve always been a person. When I was younger, I was a person who was really on board the Jesus train. Actually, trains were the theme of one of our vacation Bible school programs over summer break. The verse that the program used for the train theme was “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.
It probably also goes without saying that this verse applies to female children too. The Bible doesn’t go out of its way very often to include boys and girls in the same category, but it should be appropriate here.
There are lots of programs all over the country that train up boys (and girls) in the way they should go. Of course this specifically refers to the Christian way. If you’re not familiar with these programs they are actually a lot of fun. They have songs, games, activities and you usually make some really good friends while you’re there. And when I was 8 years old I was routinely attending programs like this—playing dodgeball, making crafts, and singing songs like, “I am a C! I am a C-H! I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N!”
As you get older and advance through the programs, you graduate from coloring in pictures of Jesus feeding the thousands to memorizing the books of the Bible and specific verses. I can still name every book of the Bible in order. Old and New Testament. It’s not a very popular party trick.
Anyway, after several summers and several different churches with varying degrees of intensity, I decided to spend my summer working at a Christian summer camp in western Iowa. Originally, I’m from central Iowa. Now I live in Eastern Iowa so, even though it was the University of Iowa that brainwashed me with their liberal agenda I still want to say, Go Hawks!
It was my summer here at camp where the first cracks started to appear in my Shield of Faith. I’ll spare you the long winded version of one of the most major exchanges, but it basically went down like this: I got into an argument with a guy about whether or not unborn babies went to Hell if they were aborted or miscarried.
I’ll go on record here and say that I was in the boat that believed an all-powerful, all-loving God wouldn’t make the most innocent soul imaginable spend an eternity in Hell. The other guy championed the idea of original sin which was first trademarked by St. Augustine somewhere around the late 4th century. Even ol’ Augie couldn’t get everyone on board with that one and it’s probably worth noting that I’m pretty sure that not everyone at camp thought like this.
Basically, the concept of original sin says that thanks to Adam and Eve, all people are born sinners. So if you never get to be born or don’t live long enough to say the magic prayer that lets you collect your free ticket to heaven, you have to go to Hell because while God really, REALLY loves you, he’s not going to bend the rules for a baby sinner.
I’ll go ahead and repeat that this guy was probably in the minority of people at camp who believed this, but he really believed it. And, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t doing the best job arguing my case. He had specific scriptures to quote and well-structured arguments and the best I could offer was a sincere, “Well that’s really stupid.”
I wasn’t trying to be mean but to be fair, it is a pretty stupid idea. If this guy was right, unborn babies and unfortunate infants would statistically have to make up a pretty significant percentage of Hell’s population. I just honestly felt in my heart that no matter how concise this guy could make the argument in favor of baby damnation, it couldn’t be true. And so I got irritated.
I told the guy that the idea of that was horrible and that I refused to worship a god that would damn babies to eternal suffering. And yes, it had to be eternal. This was a protestant camp after all and protestants don’t believe in purgatory. Hell is Hell, all decisions are final, no exceptions.
My lack of enthusiasm for a god who damns babies didn’t sit well with this guy. “So,” He asked me. “Are-are you saying that you don’t believe in God?”
“No.” I told him. “I’m saying I don’t believe in your god.”
And so there it was. The first Achilles crack my Armor of God. His Sword of the Spirt couldn’t penetrate my Breastplate of Righteousness, but it certainly cracked my shield. The idea that he and I essentially believed in gods with vastly different natures was especially troubling to me. Don’t get me wrong, I still believed in God for a long time after that, I can’t even say with absolute certainty that I don’t believe in some form of God now, but that was the first crack.
There were others of course. A bump here, a ding there. Some conversations or things I saw left my shield out in the rain and it started to rust around the edges. One of those rusting factors was that even though everyone at camp believed so fervently in God, they seemed more concerned with not going to Hell than anything else.
Hell in some ways seemed to be as powerful a force for getting people to believe as the promise of eternal life. God apparently has a real carrot-and-stick approach to inspiring devotion. The cloud and worry of Hell was enough to render things that didn’t fit into the Christian world view toxic.
The mention of the word “atheist” seemed to inspire either an inward cringe or a deep sense of pity despite it being just a word.
Another crack came after camp when I got back home. One day, as they are known to do from time to time, some Mormons came to our door. I’m pretty fond of people so I started talking to them. They asked if they could leave a Book of Mormon with me and since I’m also fond of both free things and books, I said yes.
I felt weird holding the book of Mormon. Like it was some piece of contraband that I shouldn’t have. I took it back up to my room and remember looking at it on my desk. It didn’t burst into flames. I looked at my hand, it hadn’t left a black spot on it. It was just a book on a desk.
I didn’t read it. It was really long and I wasn’t particularly interested in Mormonism. But as strange as it sounds, it was a big deal to discover that entertaining ideas that ran counter-current to Christian theology didn’t immediately corrupt me.
I carried my cracks and curiosity to college with me. I filled my elective hours with classes in the religious studies department. While my friends were filling elective credits by taking fun classes like scuba diving and rock climbing, I was in a dusty classroom trying to figure out who God was.
I took classes with titles like Introduction to the New Testament, Jesus and his Disciples, Origins of the Devil, and The Quest for Human Destiny.
Sometimes when I poke around on Christian media or listen to Christian radio stations, guests and authors bemoan the corruption of youth at liberal Universities. They paint portraits of malicious liberal professors wringing their hands and hammering away at people’s belief in an ultimate truth until they lose their faith.
Some very serious Christians even made a movie about it! It’s called God’s Not Dead. In this movie, the hero is a bold young college student standing up to a professor who refuses to pass students who don’t confess that there is no god.
That wasn’t my experience at all. Several of the classes I took were with the same professor. He was really good at teaching and every class I took with him started with him telling the class that we were not allowed to infringe on or belittle other people’s beliefs. It’s also worth noting that many of my classmates were believers.
They wore their Cru, Salt, and 24:7 (campus ministry programs) T-shirts to class sometimes and were really good classmates. They all seemed happy to discuss the class material and passed the class with their beliefs perfectly intact. The professor never discouraged them from their faith, he simply taught the material that he was an expert on. Honestly, a lot of the true believers probably did better in that class than I did.
Another crack appeared during an assignment for Intro to the New Testament. Speaking from a scholarly perspective, most of the epistles are proven to be written by Paul the Apostle as they claim to be. However, there are a couple of epistles that religious scholars almost unanimously agree were not in fact, written by Paul. Then there are a handful where scholars are divided on the authorship.
The assignment was to take one of the epistles that scholars debate over and write a paper to build a case for whether or not it was actually written by Paul. Ephesians was the book I decided to do my paper on since I was pretty familiar with it after having to memorize a long passage from it while working at camp.
I decided to write my paper with the assertion that Paul did in fact author the book of Ephesians. So, I rolled up my sleeves and compiled my research. I found a good spot in the library, started typing, and immediately got stuck.
I looked back over my sources and tried to make things fit, but it didn’t add up. Everything I had for this assignment lead me to reverse my position. The paper I turned in adequately argued that Paul hadn’t written the book of Ephesians. I got an A on that paper. One of my classmates who was an active member of campus ministries wrote a paper arguing that Paul was the actual author of the book. She also got an A.
Basically, I had the opposite experience of the guy who wrote More than a Carpenter. This guy, Josh McDowell, wrote a short book about his experience trying to categorically prove that Christianity was false. But when he sat down on his college campus and put pen to paper, he couldn’t do it. He had to admit that Jesus was God.
We’ll take a little bird walk here, but a big part of his revelation was based on C.S. Lewis’ trilemma Liar, Lunatic, or Lord. Basically, the guy who wrote the Narnia books argues that there are only three possibilities for Jesus. Either he was a liar, he was a crazy guy, or he was who he said he was. Liar seems pretty unlikely since Jesus really got a raw deal if he was just trying to con some people, but it’s probably worth noting that it’s much easier to make an argument for Jesus being God when the vast majority of the source material that you’re working with operates on the premise that He is God.
I’m not saying that He isn’t. I’m not saying that He is. All I can tell you is that when I tried to write a concise argument that Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, I came up short. Confronted with the evidence I had, I had to say that he wasn’t the author. And get this, the book claims in its first line of the book that he is the author. In other words, the conclusion I drew is that at least in this instance, the Bible was wrong.
The Bible was Dropped Out of the Sky
This was a big problem for someone like me. See most of the churches I attended in my life led me to believe that God sat down one day, wrote out the Bible in perfect English, and then dropped it out of the sky. You didn’t question it. You didn’t challenge it. It was the perfect word and law of a sovereign all-powerful God.
Not all facets of Christian thinking work like this. I have a Catholic friend who told me once that her church taught that the Bible is the word of God. But, it’s the word of God that was spoken through man who is an imperfect medium. So while it has some issues, it’s the best tool we have to understanding God, kind of like trying to listen to the radio through a bunch of static—Perfect message, imperfect medium.
Once when I was working at camp, someone offered up a prayer for the Catholics like my friend. They asked God to help them find the truth because they were so close to it but their belief in heretical things like purgatory and praying to Saints got in the way. My Catholic friend explained later that you don’t really pray to the Saints, you pray though the Saints. Like asking a friend to pray for you, only that friend is in heaven. I like that. Maybe I should consider becoming Catholic.
Many Christians consider evolution to be an affront to the authority of the Bible. Once when I was listening to a Christian radio station, a man was talking about his relationship with his wife. During the interview he said something like, “And at that point we started to under-go, and you’ll have to pardon the word, and evolution as a couple.” You have to distance yourself from the toxic words after all.
Smug Christian commentators always way over emphasize the word “THEORY” in the phrase “Theory of evolution.” And that’s a pretty weak way to discredit it. Do you know how solid something has to be for something to be labeled a “theory” in the scientific community? Plate tectonics is a scientific theory. You know, tectonic plates, the things that cause earthquakes? The things that people understand so well that they can, accurately measure and identify places where earthquakes are likely? Yeah that’s just a theory. So much for that world view.
Again, Christian media outlets portray professors who teach about the evolution of humanity as these malicious rat-like people actively trying to silence the truth of Jesus Christ. Again, this was not my experience in school. To fulfill a Gen Ed requirement I took an anthropology class called Human Origins. There was no doctrine. There was no requirement that you had to denounce the existence of God in order to pass.
It was just a genetics professor talking about Mendel’s Peas and the fossil records of other bipedal primates. Most of it was really boring actually. And that’s what struck me about it—how boring it was and how simple it was. It was just classroom material. It was simple science. It wasn’t this dark storm battering away at the strongholds of God’s truth. It was just a skinny professor in a dweeby tie showing us the occipital bun on the skull of a Homo Sapien.
A Quick History Lesson
Did you know that Galileo was one of the first people who could prove that the Earth goes around the Sun, not the other way around? Did you also know that for this heretical belief, he was threatened with torture by the Catholic Church? Do you know what everyone (with the exception of a few whack-doodles online) believes today? The Earth goes around the sun.
Christians even point to this fact as the genius and perfect beauty of God’s intentional intelligent design. Is it not possible that some day we will all accept the scientific proof of our common ancestry as bipedal primates? I’ve met several Christians who don’t condemn the “world view” of evolution. Instead, they suggest that, like the Earth going around the Sun, it too could have been God’s plan and intention.
See? You can have Christianity and evolution.
My Good Fortune
I am incredibly lucky to know many Christians that I deeply respect. My mother comes to mind at the forefront of this list. Despite my liberal brainwashing and worldly corruption, she has never once made me feel bad for my questions or my beliefs. She is the purest example of deriving love from her faith that I can think of. Another person that comes to mind is the pastor of a small church we used to attend. He was from the Philippines and would begin almost every sermon by saying, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it!” I hope he and his family are doing well.
I love people like them because I have gotten the impression from many people, in real life, on television, and on the radio that there are so many things you can do to spurn this freely given gift. Depending on the doctrine of your church, you can spurn this gift by saying it’s ok to be gay.
And I’m sorry, I have to address this one head on. If there is an all-knowing God, the amount of knowledge this being would have is literally unfathomable. All of the mysteries of the universe, the entire spectrum of light, the depths of every galaxy in existence, the very essence of life and death itself would be known to this infinite mind…and you’re going to tell me that with all of that knowledge this supreme being really, REALLY cares about what people are doing with their genitals? Give me a break.
Straight people aren’t totally off the hook for this one either. Sex outside of marriage is also a no, no. However, it seems to me that conservative Christians tend to forgive this one a lot quicker than the whole being gay thing.
It is comforting to know that if I were gay I would still be loved by my mother and her faith would remain intact. The fact that some churches openly marginalize people who they label as “struggling with same-sex attraction” by saying that it’s a struggle that God has given them to overcome absolutely sickens me.
Inside my DNA
And here it comes. There are so many things about conservative and “traditional Christian values” that sicken me. In his new album “DAMN.” Kendrick Lamar has a track called “DNA.” Where he talks about who his is and where he came from without any sugar coating. Alongside attributes like, “Royalty, Loyalty, Power, Hustle, Ambition, and Flow” Lamar admits to the presence of less flattering elements of his personality like “poison” and “pain.” He says to the listener in one line, “I got dark, I got evil, that rot inside my DNA.” Here’s my dark. Here’s the evil that rots inside my DNA—vindication.
I detest the hypocrisy of things like human exceptionalism, a belief that is mostly grounded in religious views. If God really did give humans the planet to be our dominion, why wouldn’t we take care of it?
Where is the Christian outcry for environmental protection?
If you preach universal love, where is your respect for people with different lifestyles? Why do you insist on being superior to other faiths, to other lifestyles, to other creatures?
I am disgusted by “prosperity gospel” that says that if you’re wealthy or if you have nice things it’s because God has blessed you. What is this? Feudal Europe? Ultra-rich televangelists may as well speak with the “Royal We” if they are going to insist that God showers earthly blessings on those who have His favor.
Things like this are extraordinarily insulting for me and I hate the fact that I so deeply resent them. Nothing good comes from vindication. And I have been guilty in the past of judging Christians I’ve met with the same vehemence I accuse them of judging others. There is nothing to be gained from it. It only reinforces the tribal elements of our primal brains and sorts us into mental camps of “us vs them.”
Where I am now
So, where am I now? I can’t tell you for sure. It’s difficult knowing that if I do ever consider myself a Christian again, it will be the sort of Christian that the loudest voices of the Christian world oppose. I can’t reverse my opinion on so many issues. The closest thing I’ve come to any sort of spiritual significance since I laid down my tattered Shield of Faith has come from Kurt Vonnegut’s definition of Humanism. He once said, “I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”
I like that a lot. Being a good person for the sake of being a good person. I also love Vonnegut’s description of his late sister, who was a Christian. In many writings, when he talks about his sister he mentions how she is “up in heaven now” and celebrates her faith.
If you don’t know who Kurt Vonnegut is, he has just about the most conservative résumé you could imagine and once described himself in a letter to a high school that burned his books like this:
“I gather from what I read in the papers and hear on television that you imagine me, and some other writers, too, as being sort of ratlike people who enjoy making money from poisoning the minds of young people. I am in fact a large, strong person, fifty-one years old, who did a lot of farm work as a boy, who is good with tools. I have raised six children, three my own and three adopted. They have all turned out well. Two of them are farmers. I am a combat infantry veteran from World War II, and hold a Purple Heart. I have earned whatever I own by hard work. I have never been arrested or sued for anything.”
Despite this description, that any real conservative would be proud to have, his name has been dragged around by organizations like Fox News just because his opinions didn’t celebrate war or American exceptionalism. His writings are another element that contributed to my tragic liberalization. He will be the subject of my next installment. I hope you like it and no matter what you believe, thank you for taking the time to read this one today. Peace be with you.