“God” has been a sensitive subject for me since I was a child. I’ve come full circle in my beliefs: from being raised by a fundamentalist Christian in a church most people only ever see on TV, to trying Christianity again in a more moderate church, to leaving church altogether, to becoming an angry outspoken Anti-Theist, to discovering Buddhism in college, to finally getting involved in AA where I had to surrender to a power greater than myself.
While I’m definitely not a Theist, I wouldn’t consider myself Atheist anymore either. I’m now definitely more of an Agnostic. There’s certainly something out there greater than myself. But I still definitely can’t swallow the idea of a personal loving god who cares about the outcome of my life.
My childhood at New Covenant Tabernacle
My parents had a nasty divorce around the age of 4. My Dad blamed the church. My Mom found lots of comfort in the church. Now I see both of their perspectives. As a kid I just knew that I went to church often and for very long services. I felt like I was deprived of a normal childhood since we were always at church. And I discovered in my 4th Step that I resented my Mom for it.
- On Sunday morning, we had praise and worship service. These tended to be 2.5 hours long.
- On Sunday evening, we had another praise and worship service. Sometimes with a terrifying movie or guest speaker.
- On Wednesday evening, we had another praise and worship service.
- On Thursday evening, we had prayer service. These tended to have the lights off with a lot of emotion, speaking in tongues and people being slain in the spirit.
- On Friday evening, we had youth church. Which my Mom was the leader of at one point. So we never missed that one.
Fortunately, around late Elementary School my Mom scaled back her church attendance a lot, usually just to Sunday morning. It was at that point that I started to realize that the people I went to church with were not normal functioning members of society. And I also realized how much I didn’t fit in with the other kids my age.
In Middle School, the church had a scandal where the pastors had been collecting money to build a big proper church. Up until this point, they had been holding services in a converted former porn cinema - talk about irony. They guilt tripped all of their practitioners into donating money, even the poorest among them, to buy land and build this promised new church. It was going to be great. It was going to be beautiful. God wanted us to have it.
Except the new church never materialized. The pastors and their kids did get a lot of new cars, boats and houses though. When the church members figured out what happened with the money, they lost most of their parishioners. Including my Mom. She tried a few other churches, but half-heartedly.
Cornerstone Church of San Diego
I had heard good things about a new church which met in the high school down the screen, Cornerstone Church of San Diego. I went to a Sunday service with my Mom and really liked it. She wasn’t that wild about it, but she was happy that I was finally taking an interest in religion.
I got super involved at Cornerstone. At this point, they were renting space from the local high school down the street. They have since moved into a large building and become one of the larger churches in San Diego.
I went every Sunday and Friday. I took the bus or walked when I didn’t have a ride. I helped them setup before service and break down after. I got involved with the youth group and volunteered at the church office my whole summer holiday. Up until this point, I never really had a true spiritual experience. I wanted to speak in tongues, be slain in the spirit or be touched like the other parishioners seemingly were every week. But I had this secret that I was ashamed of: I was attracted to men. I regularly masturbated to fantasies of men. And I felt super guilty about it. I was 14 and no one knew my secret.
Every week, I went up for the alter call. I really wanted god to come into my heart, give me a spiritual experience and take away these sinful feelings I was having. Some of the youth leaders - both my peers and church staff - took notice of me going up every week. And inferred that I was troubled. So they started mentoring me.
I confided my feelings into three different mentors at the church. And they prayed with me and gave me strategies to overcome my deviance. Except it didn’t work. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t pray away the gay. Eventually it got back to the youth pastor that I was gay. He didn’t take it well. He told the head pastor Sergio de la Mora about my issues. This, effectively, got me booted from the church.
Of course it wasn’t presented that way. It was presented as we love you and Jesus loves you, but we just can’t have a gay person in any position of leadership, it’s not godly. In church, as in any social group, gossip spreads fast. I continued to go to Cornerstone for a few weeks - but I got looks. People knew my secret. They looked sad - but more than anything they looked disgusted.
No one with any self-respect would have stayed at the church after that. So we parted ways.
Losing my religion
I was devastated by leaving Cornerstone. Most of my social life was there. The majority of my, at least I thought, friends. I felt hurt, I felt angry, I felt betrayed. By Cornerstone, by my friends, by God. At this point in my life, I had never actually acted on my urges, beyond porn. So I felt especially betrayed that I was being punished for something I thought rather than something I did. I felt like God had let me down that I prayed so much to be healed from my homosexual urges - and then not only did I not get healed, I got ostracized.
But I wasn’t ready to give up on god yet. I stopped going to church, but I still kept seeking god. I read forums online. I joined the Christian Club (Fellowship of Christian Athletes or FCA) in high school and became the President of it. I continued to pray. I kept hoping to be cured of my gayness. While FCA is a Christian organization, at least at that time they had no public interest in shaming gays. Hopefully that is still the case. I never had anything but good experiences with FCA.
This went on until the middle of my Sophomore year of high school. And then I was in peak puberty. I realized that these feelings were not going to go away. At the same time, living in secular society, I realized that no one really cared if you were gay. In a way, it even became cool to be gay. The modern gay rights movement that got us marriage equality was in full force. This was during the presidency of George W. Bush.
I began to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t pray away the gay. And I began to come out to close friends. I continued with FCA - even though I felt a bit hypocritical - but FCA gave me an outlet to do good in the community. We partnered with local businesses to deliver food to poor families during Thanksgiving. And we partnered with local community services, students and school staff to bring gifts to the needy every holiday.
I wasn’t willing to give that up because we were doing good for the community. But the guilt ate at me. Even though I wasn’t really a believer at this point, I still felt like homosexuality was a sin. So I finally quit going to the Christian club and quit seeking god.
Then I went to college. Not exactly a liberal stronghold, San Diego being a fairly conservative city by California standards, but for the first time, I was exposed to adult ideas. I started making adult friends, driving and working full time. I came out to my friends. No one cared. A couple said they already knew I was gay. The others didn’t care. To this day, those early people I came out to, continue to be some of my closest friends. Two of them are very much into women yet still hug me and tell me that that love me.
By them loving me how god made me, they helped me to come to terms with who I am. And while I still don’t exactly love myself, I don’t hate myself. And that is a big improvement from where I was in high school. Perhaps one day I will even love myself.
But the pain and the hurt that Fundamentalist Christians caused me didn’t go away. It simmered and festered. It made me angry. I went from rejecting church to truly not believing in god. I openly embraced the New Atheist movement. Combined with the New Gay Rights movement that was celebrating the election of Barack Obama, I got politically involved. I got loud. I got proud. I attended my first Pride parade, marching with the San Diego New Atheists.
On the side, I started a political blog. We loved to attack republicans and theists. They made it too easy. I also began to read books by New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens (RIP). I went to talks. I went to protests. I became an angry queer activist.
But I also became a resentful asshole. I attacked my parents for their political views. I burned bridges with Christian friends and family members. And I was just generally filled with rage. I was in college and thought I had all the answers. But I also didn’t like the person I had become. So I deleted the blog and detached from politics a bit.
I was still an angry Anti-Theist, but I was a bit quieter about it. Life got a little better with me being less hostile and angry.
Buddhist Philosophy in College
When I transferred to San Diego State University, I didn’t have time to be angry and political. I was working full time and going to school full time. One of the electives I took, because I had always been interested in eastern religions, was Buddhist Philosophy.
This class changed my life. While it approached Buddhism from an academic perspective rather than from that of a practitioner, I learned a lot. I found a religion without god(s) but with all of the good parts of Christianity minus the dogma. I found a path where I could be have a moral compass, live a good life and be a moral person without the constant thread of being sent to hell.
To this day, even though I’ve been out and proud since college, I still feel some sense of shame towards sex. And being gay. I call it my Christian Guilt. This is something I’m working through with my sponsor to this day.
“We remembered always that our sex powers were God-given and therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be despised and loathed.” 1
Buddhist philosophy helped me to slowly become less angry and be able to start to let go of my resentments toward Christianity. Since I made the decision to quit drinking in October of 2017, I started going back to the temple regularly. It’s really aided my recovery - particularly giving my resentments, fears and regrets over to my higher power.
I had a lot of pain, which tended to manifest as rage, toward Christianity until recently. Particularly concerning Cornerstone and Pastor Sergio. But through the 12 Step process, I was finally able to forgive them. While I still do not agree with the impact that fundamentalist Christianity is having on our politics, I’ve realized that the actions of the fundamentalist minority are not in line with the teachings of Christ and that it does not serve me, or serve my recovery, to continue to be bitter toward Christians.
I’m no longer an angry Atheist. But I’m not a Theist either. I’m Agnostic now. I’m open to the idea of God, given evidence. I’ve seen a miraculous change happen in my life since I began working on the 12 Steps. I’ve seen an even more miraculous change in others. That doesn’t prove the existence of god(s) but it certainly leaves open the possibility of some higher power out there.
What Is God
In AA I had a lot of trouble finding a god that I was okay with. Then my sponsor told me that God just needs to be some power outside of myself. It doesn’t have to be a bearded man in the sky. He said some people even use the group of Alcoholics Anonymous (G.O.D = Group of Drunks) as their God.
Sometimes A.A. comes harder to those who have lost or rejected faith than to those who never had any faith at all, for they think they have tried faith and found it wanting. They have tried the way of faith and the way of no faith. Since both ways have proved bitterly disappointing, they have concluded there is no place whatever for them to go.2
So I decided to surrender to the Three Jewels of Buddhism: the buddha, the dharma and the sangha. Ultimately the Universal Power of Mindfulness. It’s all around us. It’s where God exists in the empty spaces between us. Perhaps someday I will change my mind and believe in a benevolent personal god - crazier things have happened - but for now I’m sticking with the Universal Power of Mindfulness as my higher power.
The power and resilience of humans inspires me. People helping each other, selflessly, in the most hopeless situations inspires me.