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God In a Box

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. - Pascal, Pensees #895

You can tell what's inside by what comes out. - Jesus (paraphrased)

This is the story of my religious life and how I went free of religion. This page is the first of several that give the long version. I also have a summary.

I was raised with the view that the Bible was inspired by God, and thus totally reliable. My church taught that the Bible was the primary way we can learn about God and that we can become what God intends for us to be by following its teachings. Although we can't expect to become perfect in this life, we will be made perfect in the next life.

My family went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night. By the time I entered my teens, I had heard hundreds of sermons and hundreds of Bible class lessons. I knew that God had created the world and had made two humans from whom we were all descended and who were the source of our sinful nature. I knew that he had chosen Abraham and his descendants to be his people in a special way. I knew that Jesus, a descendent of Abraham and the great Jewish King David, was born of the virgin Mary, and that he was God's only Son as well as a man. I knew that Jesus had been crucified to atone for the sins of all people, and that he had been resurrected from the dead and had ascended into heaven. I knew that he had established the church as the institution made up of all those who believed in him, so they would help each other until the end of the world, when he would come back to take them all to live in heaven with him forever. I knew that my church, although it began in the early 19th century, was the true church because it followed the Bible—unlike other churches, whose teachings were wrong in essential ways.

I accepted the church's doctrine because it was what my family and friends believed. Of course I questioned it in my own mind at times, but I had heard so many teachings that answered the objections of others that I assumed my own questions had answers—even if I never found out what they were. I was well aware that most people didn't share my church's beliefs, but my teachers explained that most people didn't know the truth, and that it was our responsibility to teach them the truth. My view of the world was so parochial that I couldn't conceive of what it might be like to be a Catholic, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or an atheist, except to think how sad it would be to be so benighted.

Now I think how sad it was that I was so indoctrinated. So much of my life was wasted listening to repetitive, boring, false teaching, and I failed to pursue my interests because I considered them less important than seeking God's will for me.

When I started high school, my family started attending a congregation which was less conservative than most in my denomination. The leaders tried to focus on teaching the basics of Christianity rather than emphasizing the faults of other denominations. There, the young couple who taught the high school Bible class and led the youth group introduced me to some teachings of the Bible which were radically new to me. From them, I learned that God related to people personally, not merely as members of the church. This was the beginning of my exposure to a broader perspective on Christianity.

Next page: Out of the 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 prior permission.