Editor’s Note: This young man would have been become a member of The Clergy Project, if he had ever completed his seminary training. Instead, he got a law degree, and went to work for conservative causes – for a while. Now he’s on fire for “human progress and dignity” as he puts it. And just in time, given the Trump administration’s abhorrent policies on the Mexican border. I hope we’ll be hearing more from him, here on the blog and in the wider world.
By Luke Douglas
I was chosen by God.
Not in any vague or subjective way: The Creator of the universe revealed his inerrant Word in the Bible, laying out the literal historical and scientific truth of the cosmos and then called me, the foot soldier of the homeschooling movement, to conquer the social and political institutions of America and save western civilization from Satan and the left, virtually identical though they were.
The world where I grew up was not one where compromise was encouraged, and certainly not one where dissention was taken lightly. If anything, the most striking trait of the rigidity was not any sense that I was controlled or coerced, but more that there would be no reason to think any other way.
The simplicity of the whole thing was airtight with its internal consistency to the point that questioning any one part of it was nonsensical under the weight of the rest. The universe was 6,000 years old. All living things existed within unchanging created “kinds,” and the history of the ancient world all took place after a worldwide flood sometime around 2,300 B.C.
We didn’t just tacitly acquiesce to this reality in the absence of contrary evidence; my family devoured creationism from conferences to books to alternative guidebooks and tours of the national parks to interpret geological and paleontological features in light of Noah’s flood.
Then, of course, creationism never exists in isolation. LGBT+ people were, per our most respected thought leaders, “sodomites,” for whom the Bible demanded the death penalty, along with those who committed blasphemy, including those who adhered to false religious, such as Islam or even Catholicism.
It may be easy for an outsider to imagine these ideas on some survivalist compound in Wyoming or Mississippi, but they weren’t. I grew up in deep blue Oregon, less than an hour’s drive from the Portland International Airport. If the recent national election hasn’t tipped you off, fundamentalists are not just in eastern Kentucky or the Oklahoma panhandle. They’re sitting beside you at Chile’s. They’re your coworkers and neighbors, and many of them live in a subculture you might not even know how to see.
Plugged into the right political machine, the zeal of God’s commission to take dominion over society has enabled the hostile takeover of nearly every institution of American democracy.
I fell in love with politics the first time when I was fifteen. I volunteered for the California Proposition 8 campaign, which amended the State Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. It passed.
I showed an early knack for public speaking and writing, activism, politics and the culture war:
- When I was sixteen, I approached my pastor and told him I was interested in teaching and eventually preaching, so he coached me on how to study the Bible in depth and preach it according to its original meaning.
- When I was seventeen, I started getting invited to speak at conservative rallies and conferences as a rising star for the new TEA Party movement that was sweeping the nation’s politics.
- At eighteen, I moved to northern Virginia for my first full-time job at a consulting firm raising money for major Republican organizations and campaigns.
- At nineteen, I earned my Bachelor’s degree and went to a conservative Christian law school on a full-ride scholarship and worked as a legal advocate for theocratic values.
I’ve seen exactly what’s on the inside of the religious right because I was there. I know exactly what they want to accomplish in this country because I helped them implement it. I have felt the fire to take dominion over this wicked world in the name of Christ because that fire burned in my heart.
How does a person escape this black hole of cognitive dissonance and self-reinforcement? How can you teach yourself to doubt, to question and ultimately to look your own identity in the face and say I was wrong?
Seeing through the propaganda wasn’t so simple. The process of reorganizing everything you think you know and eliminating the many, many things you believe when you discover they are false was a very long and gradual process. It’s hard to pinpoint a moment when the doubts began, but in many ways it began in the very core of who I always was: a questioner.
I was raised to examine everything in light of the Scriptures to see if the things people taught me were accurate. Sooner or later, that core principle had to take the next leap to examine the Scriptures themselves to see if the Bible was true. And so I did.
I visited churches of different Christian denominations in search of some core version of Christianity from which I could amputate all the baggage I had grown to doubt, and eventually explored the services of other religions entirely.
I dropped out of my part-time seminary program to shift that academic energy into philosophy, from Thales of Miletus on up through Bertrand Russell. I explored the great thinkers of the world’s intellectual history and quickly found myself discovering real science, which I continue learning as I become aware of how much my creationist education missed the mark.
All this left me living a troubling double life. On my own time, I taught myself science, philosophy and history in a way that brought the world around me into focus. While in my professional life, I was promoting a world that looked increasingly as though the enemies of the enlightenment that I worked for might just win some victories that would be hard to reverse.
In the summer of 2016, organized hatred and bigotry were so deafening that I couldn’t bear being an active part of it. My own sampling of comparative religions had left me cynical that any of them had “the one true” answer, or that such a search was even possible. My reading had taken me to Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, the final nails in the coffin of my longtime struggle to hold onto faith. I finally snapped.
I was in a Chick-fil-a in central Texas where I was working for a Republican state house campaign. My fiancé was in S. Korea for the summer doing missions work, so I had very limited ability to discuss my journey with her in real time. I remember vividly the instrumental Christian music that the restaurant was playing, so cleverly that a non-believer needn’t be offended by the cultural tropes of Christianity, but a believer would immediately recognize them. My head filled in the words to the songs, dredging up every memory I had of fundamentalist sermons, pseudo-scientific talking points and the thousands of King James Bible verses I had committed to memory.
I lost it.
I dropped my book, went into the men’s room, hid in a stall and bawled my eyes out. I finally admitted to myself that I was an atheist, a humanist and a progressive. Everything that my old worldview had made clear to me about my place in the universe and the purpose of my life was gone. My family and friends would be devastated. While adrift on a sea of chaos, I left my fiancé a voicemail telling her all this and begging her not to leave me as her Bible said she must.
Now the fire that I felt for the triumph of the Gospel burns again, because I feel that fire for human progress and dignity. I channel it today into helping people who are still finding their way out, and advancing the message of curiosity and critical thinking that our world so desperately needs, assuming we value the progress we’ve made since the enlightenment.
With all the skills and insights I gained as a professional conservative activist, I now lend my time as a full-time progressive activist. From that pathetic breaking point in a bathroom stall, I decided that my honor was not for sale, whatever the price may be. I know that in this wave of totalitarian fundamentalism, there is no compromise, and we have no recourse but to defend our democracy against all the fear and hatemongering of the dark ages. And if they insist on declaring war upon all humanity, then we will stand beside our fellow human beings and cast at the feet of the tyrant the mandate of all nature: evolve or die.
Bio: Luke Douglasis a political consultant, progressive activist, writer and rabble rouser. Since leaving fundamentalism and a political career for the religious right, he has been outspoken about his journey to secular humanism. Catch him reading history, science, or philosophy, or on Twitter @Propter__Hoc.
>>>Photo Credits: by Michelangelo – wikimedia commons. Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg#/ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nuremberg_chronicles_f_11r_1.png#/media/File:Nuremberg_chronicles_f_11r_1.png ; By © Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12214419