By Betty Hammond, August 5, 2012
My experience with religion began as a young child when my granny took me to a revival meeting. She was the preacher that night, and for the first time, I heard about sin, guilt, heaven, hell and a forgiving Jesus. It was pretty frightening.
Although I grew up in the Bible Belt, my parents did not attend church and did not pressure me to attend. Aside from my grandmother’s sermon and a brief period of church attendance in my preteens, I had no connection with a church and had very little knowledge of the Bible.
A more meaningful spiritual journey began after I graduated from a large high school in Tennessee. With classmates scattering in various directions, I was suddenly without the close community they provided. My job at a large department store was unfulfilling, and with no plans for college, my life seemed to be without purpose.
I was invited to a weekend camp for youth operated by a staff of charismatic Evangelical Christians. It was there that I became a born-again Christian and eventually had hopes of joining their staff. This conversion filled the void in my life and ultimately led to my enrollment in a Bible college with the purpose of preparing myself for Christian ministry.
I realized that because of the missed church attendance of my youth, I had a lot to learn and so approached my studies enthusiastically — at first. In time, the eagerness waned as I became disturbed at what I found regarding the character of God in the Old Testament.
The biblical God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites for their guide to godly behavior; and then in direct violation of those commandments, ordered them to take the lives of whole tribes. This contradiction as well as others found in the Bible left me with many unanswered questions.
I found it troubling to learn in a church history class that throughout the ages, Christians had persecuted members of other religions. Further, as a young Christian, I had naively believed in the power of prayer as promised in the Bible. When prayers were not answered, like many Christians, I found myself making excuses for God with standard answers such as, “God does things in mysterious ways.”
Eventually, I concluded that while prayers may bring some sense of hope, there was no evidence that they produced results.
Even though the serious questions about the validity of the Bible grew, I held to the Christian faith by recalling the wonderful feeling of being born again and the companionship that the Christian community offered. After graduating from the Bible college and joining the staff of the Christian youth organization for two years, I married another of its employees. We later left the organization so that he could study for and become an ordained minister.
During the 29 years of marriage to him, I was actively involved in the life of the church, working, and raising our two children in the Christian community. I was moved by the acts of kindness of fellow church members toward needy people and recall many happy moments spent with members in worship and companionship.
So why am I not still in the Christian church?
One Sunday morning as I sat in choir about to take communion, all of the disconnects of the Christian faith began to surface. Why would a God of love require the death of living creatures — animals in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament — to atone for sins. I pictured other ancient accounts of human sacrifice as appeasements to gods — young maidens being thrown off cliffs and brave warriors having their hearts torn out. This epiphany could not be suppressed.
Further reflections over time only brought more questions to mind. Why should I believe in a hell and heaven when there is no proof of either? Why should I believe in a faith that is based on ancient writings that were selected from many writings at a meeting of men who lived centuries ago? Why would the Bible be more authentic than any other “holy” book?
And finally, how could I be a Christian if I no longer believed in the authority of the Bible? Reason won out over blind faith, and I realized that because I was no longer a Christian, I should leave the church.
My moral and ethical values have never changed, and I still strive to be my better self. I continue to have friends of various faiths — or no faith — and I have found groups that offer inspiration and fellowship.
After a few years as a nontheist, I visited and ultimately became a member of the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. They are a welcoming and caring community with Sunday morning services featuring a variety of speakers and programs for all age groups that are challenging, comforting, and inspirational.
I have also found kinship with the ever-growing membership of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society. And so my spiritual journey continues.