Saturday, 13 October 2012

Guest Post: Sheldon Cooper, From Christian Fundamentalist to Closeted Agnostic Blogger (Part 1)

Guest Post by Sheldon Cooper (not the character from Big Bang Theory!)

Editor's Note: Here's the first part of the de-conversion story of blog reader Sheldon Cooper (not his real name).  Sheldon comes out of a fundamentalist Christian household and had to overcome deep religious programming, OCD and depression in his quest for truth that finally brought him to Agnosticism.

From Christian Fundamentalist to Closeted Agnostic Blogger (Part 1)

I look back now at my past life, and wonder how I did not question Christian fundamentalism or leave it behind long before I did. I was deeply involved in fundamentalist Christianity for 16 years, from the time I made a profession of faith at only five years old (and was baptized at seven), to shortly after my 21st birthday.

There are so many impossibilities and the contradictions to the Bible, that it's hard for me to believe now that, with all my intense study of the Bible for so many years, I didn't see them and start doubting long before I did.

I was part of three different denominations: the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement (IFB), which has been called a cult; the Pentecostal group the Assembly of God, in which I had my first "speaking in tongues" experience at 11; and the Southern Baptists, in which I was a Biblical Studies minor in one of their more well known universities.

I believed it fully and with a passion until my crisis of faith a little over two years ago which eventually led me to becoming an agnostic. But before my crisis I didn't question my faith. I was one of those people who agreed fully with the Bible and thought it should be taken literally in all circumstances unless the passage clearly stated or implied that it was figurative. Looking back at that now, it's kind of embarrassing, I mean, have you really taken a look at Genesis lately?

Generally, whenever I would encounter biblical contradictions, I would try to rationalize them or explain them away. I have said before that if you approach the Bible with the belief that it is absolute truth, it will always make sense, but if you look at it from a doubting/questioning point of view, like I did when I started questioning my faith, it rarely ever makes sense.

So you may be asking what led me to start doubting in the first place. For the answer, I need to go back about five years and talk about my personal life and the struggles I had before I started doubting.



Life's Struggles

I was a Biblical studies minor at a prominent Southern Baptist university, I went into that college after being in an Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E) private school from kindergarten to the 5th grade. (For more on A.C.E, read the blog Leaving Fundamentalism.)  I was home-school with this curriculum until graduation.

Being in that kind of isolated environment, combined with my pre-existing depression (and what I know now to be the effects of  OCD), made me unprepared and ill-suited for a college that, despite its Christian fundamentalism, was structured  much like any public college. Things didn't turn out well.  The depression hit hard and my inability to relate to people caused by the isolation of my childhood and my OCD made studies very challenging.

(I've wondered sometimes if people have confused me for an autistic due to my social skills, or lack thereof in some cases. I felt lost and almost like I was an immigrant in some foreign country at times, even though I had only moved 200 miles away from home.)


Breakdown

Depression attacked with a vengeance with both emotional and, worst of all, physical symptoms. The fatigue became so severe that I couldn't get out of bed most mornings.  It sometimes took 4 or 5 twenty-ounce bottles of Mountain Dew to get through a 4-hour shift at the college cafeteria.

Muscle weakness and pain also became common and. although less frequent, it still persists to this day. Some days I would nearly collapse getting out of bed.  My legs wouldn't hold me up and I would have wait several minutes until I could try to stand up again.

I also started to get severe panic attacks. I probably had about twenty severe attacks that year.  Luckily I haven't had one since that year.

Needless to say, everything fell apart.  I had to return home, to face everything that happened, to pick up the pieces. You think my fundamentalist family would be supportive, right? Think again. Though they helped me to start over, for which I was grateful, I was emotionally knocked around every day.


Back To God

Apparently, my depression was nothing more than "guilt". I needed God back in my life. I began to believe that everything that had happened, even my depression, was my fault.  That maybe I did something to cause this.

Thus began a long process of begging God for forgiveness, and doubling down on my previous commitment to fundamentalism. I finally came to the point where I felt like God had "forgiven" me, but I still felt like there was no real connection there at all. However, I kept going anyway. I felt like my faith was strong nevertheless.

I felt fine in my faith for about two years afterwards, until all of a sudden, doubts and questions sprang up on me...

Next Part... The Seeds of Doubt 

Editor's Note: The second part of Sheldon's story will include the circumstances of his de-conversion from Christianity.  It includes a Wiccan - which will be a festive addition to the Halloween/Samhain season!

Check out Sheldon's Bio Page or jump directly to The Ramblings of Sheldon.

5 comments:

  1. Wow Sheldon! So far I can identify with a lot of your story....Pentecostal/Baptist churches...homeschooling...depression.... I'm looking forward to reading the next instalment. =)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sheldon Cooper23 October 2012 11:26

    Hey, sorry I didn't find your comment earlier. Thanks for reading, and I'm sure we're not alone in our experiences.

    ReplyDelete
  3. John Howell of Oxford UK9 November 2013 13:53

    I respect others views. I own my beliefs and experiences with evidence that certain Pentecostal environments , although sincere and well meaning, actually influence poor mental health - the lstern warnings and control from pulpits can cause OCD to become more intense. Thankfully I escaped those things - and thought for myself. Result: freedom of mind and a wonderful family life.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for your comment, John. I'll let Sheldon know it's here.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Since I wrote this, I have been researching more about mental illness, and have been questioning who I am. I'll be going to a psychiatrist hopefully in the next few months, and I've began to wonder more if it's autism, though autism and OCD are closely related.


    Either way, my upbringing couldn't made it any better, by any means, the control mechanisms inherent in fundamentalist religions, the constant quilting of people, and making them think they are never enough, it can't help.

    ReplyDelete