Editor’s Note: Like so many other religious leaders who try to pray their doubts away, this former pastor finds that doubt ultimately wins and morphs into disbelief. Instead of losing faith, he’s found an openness that he hopes others can find, as well. /Linda LaScola, Editor
By Matthew Hullinger
- What caused you to start seriously doubting your faith?
My cousin committed suicide and I could not reconcile a loving god with one who sends folks who commit suicide to hell.
- How did you initially react to the doubts?
I prayed harder, fasted a lot, studied the Bible more and did everything you can think of to try to restore my faith. I sat down and read through the Bible with the goal of understanding it and not just reading it like I had many times in the past. Once I started to really try to understand it, I realized it made no sense.
- What caused the doubts to start becoming stronger than your beliefs?
As I read through the Bible, less and less of it made sense to me. Also, I felt a complete and total silence in regard to god. When I realized that it was my own conscious mind that had been acting in the role of god’s voice for all those years, it became clear to me that I had simply been living a life of delusion.
- How did the doubts affect your preaching/teaching/other responsibilities, your interactions with your congregation and your family?
As the Bible began to make less sense to me, I began to study philosophy. I read the entire works of Plato, Aristotle, The Stoics and many others. I began to realize that these folks, in many ways, provided much better arguments on the subject of morality than the Bible does. In sermons, I started using a single scripture and then basically preached philosophy. It’s funny but, for the most part, my congregation responded very well to that approach. I got a ton of compliments for those sermons.
- How did you come to the realization that your doubts were overcoming your beliefs; that you were no longer a believer?
I sat in church after one service and begged god to reveal himself to me in even the smallest of ways. I sat there in prayer for a good while and when no answer came, I realized that I was just talking to myself. There isn’t going to be a sign because there isn’t something to give that sign to me. I realized I simply had been deluded and indoctrinated to believe that my own conscious thoughts were the god that we all worshipped.
- How did you think of yourself at that time (e.g., agnostic, atheist, spiritual-but not-religious, non-believer, different-believer, something else)?
I considered myself to be spiritual-but-not-religious. Being Pentecostal, I had experienced the trancelike euphoria that comes with faith. It took me some time to realize that there was nothing supernatural about these occurrences; instead, brain chemistry was directly responsible for them.
- What do you consider yourself to be now?
I would say I am an Agnostic-Atheist to the god question in general, meaning I don’t claim to know with certainty that there is no god, however I consider myself a gnostic atheist in terms of any god who has a book deal, e.g., Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, etc. I can say with 100% certainty that those gods do not exist.
- Anything else you would like to say that is not contained in these questions?
If you are having doubts, I suggest that you start reading. Read everything that you were told was sinful to read. These books, movies, and songs are considered sinful because they spark the mind to think and consider things from a different perspective. Never let anyone tell you how to think. You would be surprised how easy it is to be moral when you don’t have a god telling you what to do or how to act.
Bio: Matthew Hullinger is a 33-year-old former Pentecostal minister who lives in the Midwest. After leaving the ministry, Matthew finished college with degrees in Business and Accounting and found a new career in accounting. In his free time, he maintains the “Recovering Theist Support Group” on Facebook.
>>>>Photo Credits: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Gutenberg_Bible.jpg ; By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7831217