Guest post by Bill Mathis. Bill retired from careers in YMCA camps and foster care. He is the author of four novels with two more in progress. The following is a revised letter he once sent.
Some of you asked how—after years of being an evangelical Christian, after being raised in a fundamentalist/evangelical pastor’s home, after raising my own children in the faith—how can I now call myself a secular humanist? An atheist. What happened to me?
The answer is a long one. I am working on an essay that goes into more detail, but it is taking some time. So, let me first address the comments that some of you were praying for my repentance.
Listen. My siblings and I were bred, born, suckled, weaned, and raised on a diet of Biblical literalism. We had no choice. We were not the only ones raised this way and I do not hold it against my loving parents. However, critical thinking about the Bible was not a part of our upbringing. And sadly, it rarely is in fundy-evangelical homes.
I’m a slow learner. (Save your comments, please.) Now, at age 72, my past 10 years have been a journey of personal exploration. In the process of recognizing and accepting I am gay, I sincerely investigated the Bible. At first, about homosexuality. However, the more I investigated, the broader my search became. You may not know or remember that in high school and college I was a journalist. One of my degrees is an associate’s in journalism. In my explorations about the Bible, I tried to keep the five W’s and an H in mind: who, what, when, where, why and how.
The more I read and the wider I researched, the more I came to recognize the importance of the writer’s culture and the context from which they were writing. This became even more meaningful when I began writing novels. Authors and editors write and arrange things to fit their point of view or desired message. I am now persuaded that the mostly unknown Biblical writers were not writing for us today, two to three thousand years later. And that applies to way more than just about homosexuality.
Some of you have prayed for my repentance. I have repented, but differently than what you prayed for. I must be honest and blunt. I am not repenting for being gay or living with a man I love.
However, over time, I have repented for the years I worshipped the Bible—for not recognizing it was written by bronze and iron-age men trying to figure out life while they clung to their tribalism. By men who were trying to survive occupation, who often were trying to control others as they passed down myths and legends. Some stories were mythologies from other cultures and past centuries. Some were from word of mouth shaped to tell a story, prove a point, and were not based on the evidence, or the lack thereof. Naturally, their god had to be the greatest and the most miraculous.
I regret never questioning how those writers, and they alone, could define God. I didn’t ask myself why our religious beliefs are primarily dependent upon where we are born in the world. I never thought about why an all-powerful god didn’t reveal himself/herself to the entire world in a message each person could understand and then choose to accept or reject. I stuffed my concerns about the evidence of science proving the ignorance of the Bible’s authors. Ignorance not because of their stupidity, but because they didn’t have the information that has since accumulated. I never questioned that the New Testament writers may have had differing agendas, even what years their works were written or in what order chronologically. Why did I trust and consider the words of ancient writers over the proven results of science, medicine, archeology, anthropology, history, and all the other ‘ology’s that explain our solar system, our earth and our history?
More so, why did I assume the theologies and precepts of fundamentalism and evangelicalism were the only way to God?
Lastly, why was my sense of judgmental, evangelical superiority of knowing the only way to God so strong? For that I am truly sorry.
I came to realize that most of my beliefs were just that. My beliefs.
I no longer take the Bible literally. There’s too much evidence to take it literally. However, I do try to take some of it literately. Literately, it contains beautiful, inspiring collections of poetry, history, dreams, myths, truths and stories written by men based upon their lives and experiences at their time in history. The Bible is also filled with immorality, prejudice, genocide, and it supports slavery and theocracy—to name a few negatives. Those ideas, visions, superstitions and stories were eventually compiled through a political process to become a religion enforced by government and power.
Valerie Tarico, an author and blogger I highly recommend, writes that moving away from fundamentalism is like peeling an onion. And that’s what I’ve been doing. Slowly stepping away a layer at a time from idolizing something man made. Today, for me, we have too much information, knowledge, and facts to blindly cling to and insist on millennia old beliefs and fears.
So, again, that’s where I’m at. Even with my layers of fat and lack of former beliefs—with one foot on a banana peel and the other near the grave—I am at peace and content with my life. More so than ever. And I’m not done learning!
That’s why it is my desire for fundies and evangelicals to peel their fingers away from their eyes and step back – just a little– from the intensity and certainty of some of their beliefs.
There is peace without certainty.