Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought. - Basho
This is the story of my religious life and how I went free of religion. This page is the summary. The following pages contain a longer version.
God in a Box - I was raised in the fundamentalist church in which my father and his father also grew up. There I was taught that the Bible was inspired by God, and thus totally reliable. The Bible was regarded as the primary way we can learn about God and how to become what God intends for us to be. My teachers gave me the picture that God is a good but demanding boss who gave us instructions and expects us to follow them. I accepted the church's doctrine because it was what my family and friends believed.
Out of the Box - My view of inspiration in general and the Bible in particular changed dramatically when I became involved in the charismatic movement while I was in college. Through the testimony of friends and some moving personal experiences, I came to believe that God was still alive and actively working in the lives of all kinds of people, and that the Holy Spirit lives in and inspires all Christians. I became involved in a broader Christian community, visiting a wide variety of churches and becoming a member of churches of several different denominations over a period of 30 years.
On the Edge - Having discovered that my youthful understanding of God wasn't necessarily the only possible one, I continued to explore ideas and adapt my theology to what I learned by reading and experience. I retained a relatively orthodox Christian theology, but grew increasingly skeptical of many of the conventional teachings of evangelical churches. Eventually I came to feel that I was "on the edge" of Christianity.
Going Free - In 2002 I gradually became aware of a longing for a greater sense of purpose for my life. I found that I was depressed because some professional and personal dreams seemed headed for disappointment. One day I read in a psychology textbook that each of us is responsible for choosing what to do with our lives. That was a radical concept for me. I decided that, contrary to what I had been taught all my life, God had no specific plan for my life, and that he wanted me to live creatively rather than just doing what other people say I should do. I realized that this applied to other people, too, and was excited to realize that my relationships with other people would benefit if I stopped trying to influence them to do what I thought they should do.
On the Outside - A few days later, I suddenly realized that my new-found freedom had nothing to do with Christianity, and furthermore that my half century of Christian training had been a barrier to reaching it. It occurred to me that Christianity had hidden the reality of my responsibility from me all these years, by teaching that what I needed to do was find God's will for my life. I recognized that the church and Christianity had not met my needs, and that they had no gospel for me. To my astonishment, I found that I was no longer a Christian.
In the Real World - I was stunned to see my whole world view and belief system suddenly disintegrating. Over the next few weeks I pondered many of the implications of this change in my thinking. I wondered if there is a God at all. When I realized that my faith had been based primarily on what I had heard second-hand, I came to the conclusion that I don't know if there is a God, or a supreme being of any kind. My view now is naturalistic. I doubt that there is anything supernatural. As a result, I have gone free from religion.
New Perspectives – As I have tried to look at things without the prejudice of a religious perspective, I've become much less idealistic and more pragmatic. Some of my new ideas that have the most far-reaching implications are:
1. The most effective way to find truth is not by accepting tradition, but by objective study.
2. I am responsible for myself, and not for anyone else.
3. My beliefs and actions are cosmically insignificant—important only to me and the people around me.
4. Differences aren't defects. The idea of perfection is nonsense, and there is no particular way things "ought" to be.
With these new perspectives, I'm more relaxed, self-confident, tolerant of other people, and curious about everything around me. I now explore life as a fascinating adventure.
Recommended Reading – These are some books in the areas of philosophy, critical thinking, and science that have helped me develop my new perspectives.
Next page: God in a Box
Wonderings - my thoughts on life and the story of how I went free of religion.
God in a Box – my fundamentalist Christian youth
Out of the Box – my charismatic, ecumenical experience
On the Edge – my own version of Christianity
Going Free – my acceptance of responsibility
On the Outside – my personal, non-Christian relationship with God
In the Real World – my naturalistic world view
New Perspectives – implications of some new ideas
Recommended Reading – books that have helped me develop my new perspectives
I welcome serious questions or comments about these pages.
Copyright © 2004 by Joel Justiss. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, text and photos on this site are property of the author and may not used, reproduced or distributed without permission.