My name is Josh Stewart
I grew up in a very conservative Christian community in rural TN. My Father was the pastor of a local Plymouth brethren chapel. My mother was just a simple woman who felt called by God to home-school my sister and myself.
We were the typical home-school kids, brilliant in some areas but inconceivably ignorant in others. And all the while plagued with a terrible case of social awkwardness. I think the home-school education was the worst part of my childhood. Because of it I was sheltered from people who held opposing ideas. I also lacked a proper understanding of science and philosophy. And worst of all I was accountable only to my parents (neither of who have a college degree) when it came to demonstrating that I understood what was being taught. I was home-schooled all through high school. And Most of that was self taught. Because I had almost no accountability, I was able to cheat my way to a diploma through the means of an umbrella school. I didn't really understand the potential consequences of those choices until long after the fact. Having never been given the understanding of the importance of education.
I mention this first because I want to give you all some warning that my posts may not be the best written work. The only English I ever learned I did so by reading books on my own. I really do think that my education bordered on child neglect. Being out in the boondocks by myself with almost no accountability is not a good environment for a child to learn in.
My faith growing up was based on the fear of one thing.
In short, it worked much like this:
In the beginning God created everything. Man sinned against God. God atoned for man's sin with Jesus's death on the cross. I could only be saved if I believed this and accepted Jesus's sacrifice for me.
(here comes the part that kept me going in circles)
If I accepted this then I would be indwelt by the holy spirit and would do good works for God. But, because I didn't want to do good things for God and because I still wanted to "sin" I felt I wasn't truly "saved" and therefore I started all over again.
For a good 15 YEARS i went to bed every night torturing myself over my eternal salvation. I constantly bugged my parents about it. I asked why I didn't FEEL "saved". I asked how I could really know. I would talk to other preachers and youth pastors about it as well. I just can't stress this enough. I was consumed by the idea that there was a small chance that I might end up in hell. I was driven by fear almost solely.
The real clincher for me was how often Jesus would say "go and sin no more". I really felt like that was such a snapshot of what Jesus expected of me. Sure, salvation wasn't built on works. But like Paul said in Romans: Should we continue to sin so that grace might increase? God forbid! So, I decided around age 11 to eradicate sin from my life. This was actually easier than it sounds at first. After all, what kind of trouble can an 11 year old get into on a farm in the middle of nowhere? The impossible part of my task I soon discovered was my inability to deal with my "sexual immorality". Puberty was hitting me hard at this point and the conflicting desire to be pure versus what comes naturally was maddening. This inner struggle went on for years and really shaped my life choices in the future.
I eventually came to the conclusion that if I wanted to stay in God's good graces and avoid hell. I would have to marry somebody ASAP. This was to be my sole goal in life for the next eight years. (oh it gets more twisted) Once again, I was following the teachings of the bible and I justified it with 1Cor 7:9.
"But if they can't control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It's better to marry than to burn with lust."
When I was 15 my parents moved out of the country and to a small town. It was here that I met my wife to be. Her dad was a pastor as well in the Christian Church (CoC with music) We dated for 6 years and got married when were both 21. I was still a hardcore believer at this point as was my wife and our entire family. We lived a happy married life for a few years until about two years ago.
(I'm going to try and speed this up now so please bear with me.)
Two year ago my best friend came to me and told me he didn't believe in God anymore.
I was stunned. I didn't know what to think. My friends dad was also a pastor (see a theme here?) and had been my youth group leader during my teenage years. I knew my friend to be a very smart individual but I just couldn't fathom how he could risk his eternal salvation so flippantly. Over the course of several months we had nightly conversations about scripture, science and philosophy. He got me started on reading materials I never would have considered picking up and it got me thinking... hard.
Suddenly I had questions. I went to my dad for answers, my pastor and my wifes professors. I began to rip through books looking for answers like my salvation depended on it. (I still thought it did.) I read Sam Harris, Dawkins, William Lane Craig, Bart erhman, Bertrand Russel, David Hume, CS Lewis, Robert Wright and on and on.
Everyone I talked to seemed to be either uninterested and unconcerned, or unable to fathom the gravity of the concerns trying to communicate.
Bart Erhman was the one who sealed my fate for me. He shattered my reliance on the bible as the true word of a living God. After I finished Jesus Interrupted I think I went crazy. My world exploded. All I had worked for in life had been based on lies my parents believed. "The bible has no errors, it contains no contradictions"... Shit I could have disproved on google for crying out loud. My world turned upside down in a way that I can't describe.
For one, I finally found peace. There was no boogeyman getting ready to send me to hell. I didn't have to worry about the salvation of my friends and family or others. A weight came off me like I had never felt in any church service. I have never felt so free. On the other hand... the rage that enveloped me was unquenchable. I lost a lot of friends that day. I wrecked my marriage that day too. Those first few weeks I saw nothing but red. I laid waste with my new found knowledge and freedom. I went back to every pastor who had counseled me and ripped them apart. Usually it ended with everyone in tears, myself included. My wife and I were talking of divorce at this time when she told me she was pregnant...
I have never been the same. I am trying to heal but I feel very overwhelmed. My wife and I are divorced. (she said I wasn't the man she married) I left home with everything I could carry in my car. I sold all my books that I worked so hard for and read so much. I live in lexington KY now without much to my name and not many friends. My best friend lives with me though and he's really the best thing that ever happened to me. Sorry to be such a downer. I've never really been able to write this out before so you'll have to excuse me. I don't know how to end this so I guess I'll stop here. Thanks for reading.