My father is a jack of all trades, a self-made man. He left home at age 18 and was on his own, never receiving a dime from his parents. In contrast, his brother was a momma's boy and is basically in poverty to this day. My father was a woodworker, draftsman (later computer aided draftsman), welder, fishing tackle producer, gardener, landscaper, biblical theologian...etc. At NC State and Duke Universities back in the 60s, he managed to tick off some "liberal" professors and this may have kept him from achieving a PHD. He would apparently try to preach to them about homosexuality, short skirts and so on. He moved the family from Raleigh, NC to Lawrenceville, VA in 1971 where he took a teaching job at a community college. He continued his study of Christianity on the side, learning Greek and Hebrew and reading countless books on theology to try to properly interpret the scriptures. He once asked a Jewish Rabbi about the chances of learning Greek and Hebrew well enough to be of use in biblical interpretation. The Rabbi scratched his head and replied, "Well, about the chance of a monkey building a rocket and going to the moon." He was on the verge of quitting his job at the college and attending bible college at Grace Theological Seminary in South Bend, IN, but decided against it since the professors there were elitist and didn't give him the time of day. Although my father is a conservative christian, I would not call him a strict fundamentalists. He has serious issues with Calvinism and modern Dispensationalism. He has often been accused of teaching salvation by works. He believes that faith without works (fruit) is dead and actually never truly existed to begin with. He is vehemently opposed to the carnal christian theory.
I was "saved" and baptized in June of 1977 at a Baptist church in Roanoke Rapids, NC. It was a regular occurrence for older women in this church to run to the pulpit after sermons in tears to get "saved" or re-saved. I vividly remember a sermon delivered by evangelist Johnny Pope who was a fire and brimstone style preacher. He tried to convey how hot hell would be and how long the eternity of suffering would be. In one instance, he referred to a bird flying around the globe and picking up a piece of sand off of a beach and then flying around the world and back again, picking up another grain of sand off the beach and so on and so forth. He explained that after every single grain of sand was gone from that beach, "ETERNITY HAS JUST BEGUN!!". I recall missing several "superbowls" as we attended church in Roanoke Rapids on Sunday morning, Sunday evening and sometimes even on Wednesdays.
I remember being in fear as a child. I told my father one time that I had doubts and wasn't sure if I was saved. He told me that faith started out as a little kernel and grew over time. Some nights I would be in my bed all worried and my mother would walk in. I would tell her about my lack of confidence in being saved and she tried to reassure me, saying that salvation is a gift from God and that all I had to do is accept it. I vividly remember thinking to myself at age 13 or 14, "What if evolution is true"? "What if the rapture occurs and I'm still here?" I would spend entire days in fear. So even though I grew up in a godly household, I never really felt comfortable with religion and I certainly was never sure that I was "saved; and I can say that I never had "faith". However, the notion of hell, however, improbable, kept me in fear, because if there was a 10% chance of it being real, than that was scary prospect indeed.
As I progressed into high school, I focused on my studies and just tried not to think about my predicament with respect to religion. I must say that I generally have fond memories of childhood. I had and still have very loving parents who spent lots of time with me. My mother worked with me on my homework every night and helped study for tests. Our family vacationed every year and Nags Head was our favorite location. I remember many fishing trips to the local lakes, to Nags Head and to the mountains. My brother and I worked outside every summer. We had a large yard and cutting grass was a big chore. We also tended to the grape vineyard, fruit trees and strawberry patch, and helped cultivate every fruit and vegetable imaginable. I remember spending many hours in the garden picking bushel baskets of beans, digging up potatoes, shucking corn...etc. We picked rocks and weeds out of the garden on a regular basis. My father built a bean sheller and we charged people to shell their beans. I had great parents. I don't have much to complain about with regards to my childhood.
Around 1981, my father and a few other men started their own church. We never had more than about 20 members. We met in an old school building. We had prayer meeting on Wednesday nights and sitting through these was pure hell. I can still imagine a ring of 15 people sitting in Polly Bishop's house. Every person, except for the kids, would take turns praying. Some of the individual prayers were very long winded and lasted for up to 10 minutes. The whole service could easily last 2 hours.
After I left home and attended undergraduate school at the University of Virginia, I was too focused on school to obsess about religion. .
During a summer session after my 3rd year in college, I took an English Composition course. I vividly remember a satirical essay I wrote on Christianity, with special emphasis on hell and free will. This essay went over very well with my professor and she gave me an A on it. lol. So I was basically a non-theist by my last undergraduate year.
The longer I stayed away from home, the more I rejected Christianity and religion in general. But through my late 20s and early to mid 30s, I still had this nagging concern in the back of my mind. What if hell is real??!!
What if I'm going there??
Recently I have drifted further away from formal religion. In fact, over the past 10 years, it is fair to say that I have developed an intense hatred for mainstream religion. I look around me and all I see are drones who accept all this BS without a shred of evidence, but purely based on faith and on what they have been told since they were a toddler. How can otherwise intelligent people who work in science related fields believe this garbage? Well, it is very difficult for humans to pull away from supposed religious truths that have been engrained since childhood. Why? Well it's obvious. If people question what they have been taught, then they are basically renouncing their faith and would be doomed to hell for eternity, spending trillions of years wailing, gnashing teeth and begging for a drop of water to quench their thirst. Additionally, people want to believe that they will see their loved ones again after death. People fear death and the eternal separation from loved ones. Religion provides them with hope. Also, pastors tell their congregations that while church is not essential for salvation, it is important in the cultivation of their faith. The truth is that interaction with fellow believers in church is the best way to keep people hooked on a particular faith. Otherwise, the brainwashing may just fade, eventually leading to an awakening.
Even today my parents constantly pester me about religion. My mother desperately wants to ensure that I will be going to heaven before she leaves this earth. My brother has quit his medical practice and is in Bible college preparing to be a minister. I am not sure why I turned out so differently from my brother. The only reason I can come up with is that I am by nature a non-conformist. I am an extreme non-conformist at home, at work and basically in everything I do. I am as far away from being a drone as one could ever imagine.