Secular Humanist, Agnostic, Skeptic, Atheist, Free-Thinker, Experiential Cult 'Expert', Lawyer, Human Rights Advocate.
I have revealed a bit more information about myself in a blog article I wrote addressing the false accusation that I am an anti-Christian. Although I am now an atheist, as a secular humanits I believe in the right to religious freedom. In the article titled, Who is the Real Anti-Christian: the Atheist or the Fundamentalist Christian?, I briefly discuss my journey from religious indoctrination to atheism. I provide an excerpt here, and you can read the full article by clicking on that title.
I was recently publicly accused of being anti-Christian by a Christian fundamentalist who believes that everything in the Bible is literally true. It is a false accusation, but doesn't surprise me given the confused, narrow worldview of my accuser and the fact that I publicly identify myself as an atheist while helping to expose on my websiteabusive religious behaviour that violates the rights of others. Other believers who have contacted me through my site stopped communicating with me after they realized I was an atheist, or have told me my website is too 'dangerous' to visit, perhaps out of fear that they might stumble on some uncomfortable facts or that I might try to'convert' them, a practice I left behind when I deconverted from Christianity. It seems that some believers automatically assume I will be hostile towards them because I openly declare my unbelief, help expose religiously motivated harm, and occasionally blaspheme or ridicule religious dogma in the process of exposing that harm.
I'm writing this, therefore, to clarify for my Christian family members and friends, who probably do find the accusation surprising, as well as for Christians and other believers who visit my website, that just because I am an atheist does not mean that I am anti-Christian (or anti-Muslim or anti-Jew, etc.). In fact, I will argue that even though I have completely rejected my Christian indoctrination, no longer believe in God and think the Bible is a book of myths, metaphors and misrepresentations, I am more respectful of Christians as a whole, and their right to believe whatever they want, than is my fundamentalist Christian accuser.
I am one of those atheists who came to that position via fundamentalist Christianity, so I know that mentality too well. I was indoctrinated into that belief system as a naive teenager in 1972 by manipulative, evangelical Jesus freaks called the Children of God. After almost 20 years of being a psychological prisoner of fundamentalist Christian dogma, I managed to break free of the hold that Christian cult, now calledThe Family International, had on me. But getting out of the cult was just the start, getting the cult out of me was an entirely different matter that took much time, introspection and education. So, a year after I escaped that mental prison, I started university, which became for me a kind of self-directed cult exit therapy.
Getting a formal, secular education was the best decision I ever made as it exposed me to facts and ideas I had completely closed my mind to as a result of Christian indoctrination that taught me that worldly knowledge separates you from God and a carnal, worldly mind is the enemy of God. (Genesis 2, 3; Romans 8:6-8) For almost twenty years I subsisted intellectually on nothing but the Bible and the writings of the self-proclaimed end-time prophet, David Berg, who said he was God's final mouthpiece on earth before Jesus' return in 1993. We know how that turned out. The false prophet rotted in his grave a year after that failed return, and Jesus will never come back, if he even existed in the first place. With that measly dogmatic diet, my mind had turned to mush from under use, so exercising it with academic studies was exactly what I needed to get my brain back from the brink of madness.
The eleven years I spent in the British Columbia education system prior to joining the cult never taught me how to think critically on any subject, let alone religion. In fact, at public elementary school every day started with a legally mandatory reading of a Bible passage and saying the Lord's Prayer. Christianity pervaded mainstream culture in various other forms and not once did I ever hear anyone, including the non-church goers and non-believers in my large extended family, criticize Christianity, religion or belief in God. In hindsight, I think my life would have turned out differently if one of those unbelievers had dared to discuss with me their reasons for their unbelief, or if I had been made aware of criticisms of Christianity, such as Bertrand Russel's tract Why I Am Not a Christian. Surely I would have thought twice about dropping out of my family, school and society to serve Jesus with an itinerant band of garbage eating hippies if I had been exposed to such a different interpretation of Jesus' message. But as it was, it never occurred to me to question the Bible's authenticity and authority since I was so softened up by my family, the Catholic church and the dominant culture to blindly accept the Jesus myth. That made me an easy target for unscrupulous, fundamentalist cult recruiters.
After nearly twenty years of the cult's mind mush, I finally left in 1991. It was clear to me even before then that Berg was a false prophet and that the ring-leaders of his cult were as corrupt, manipulative and abusive as he was. I was in the Far East at the time, though, and totally controlled by those leaders, so it took me a couple years to make a plan and secretly save money to get back to Canada. After escaping, I spent time recovering at my mom's place and soon realized that without an education my job prospects and ability to create a new post-cult life for myself were severely limited. So, regardless of low self-esteem as a result of Christian dogma that denigrates and denies self (Luke 9:23,24) I was cautiously excited to start university exactly a year after I escaped the cult.
Although I had recognized the cult was corrupt, I still held on to my Christian beliefs for awhile as I tried to sort out what to do with my life, but that started to slowly change as I began to read more and more books in preparation for university. I discovered in the small local library a fantastic encyclopedic series called The Great Conversation, which directly exposed me for the first time to many of the great works and ideas in the Western canon. I would revisit many of those books at university, but it was a different book I stumbled on by chance during the first month of classes that started me on the path of discarding the dogma I had been indoctrinated into.
That book is God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria Jr.. It was not on any of my course reading lists, but I caught a glimpse of the cover on a display shelf as I climbed some stairs in the campus library. It was still the early months in my student life, so fortunately I still had the luxury of time for extracurricular reading because the book helped change my life. It provides a critique of Christianity from a unique point of view I had never considered. As I began to question my religious beliefs, I realized that the best course of action was to suspend my belief, but I did not become an atheist over night, or even over a year. I concluded that I needed to try and start my life over with a clean slate, and defer any decisions on what I now believed concerning God and religion until I had a chance to more thoroughly examine the facts, evidence and ideas that education would expose me to.
That strategy worked. I opened my mind to knowledge, theories, facts and evidence. I questioned, doubted, and debated. I applied my new critical thinking skills to my knowledge of the Bible, reading passages in it for the first time without the blinkers of dogmatic literalism, critically citing it in numerous course essays in philosophy, literature, and history. Perhaps most importantly, I discovered the facts of evolution and came to the conclusion that far from being The Big Lie, as I was taught by fundamentalist indoctrination, evolution is a beautiful theory that is far more convincing and sensible than creationism. Of all the issues I struggled with most as a fundamentalist believer the most difficult was the dogma that the Genesis creation story is a literal one (or two, since there are two different versions), because there is so much about it that is simply unbelievable. It was a great relief intellectually and psychologically to put an end to that particular cognitive dissonance. Thanks Charles!
My pre-cult 11th grade education did not adequately instruct me on the nature of evolution, inform me of the solid, scientific basis for it, or deal in any way with the 'controversy' between evolution and creationism. My grasp of the issues was extremely simplistic, based largely on that widely used chart that misrepresents evolution as being a straight line from monkeys to humans, like that opening sequence on The Simpsons showing the ascent of Homer and the descent of Mo. I only understood that some people claimed humans were animals that evolved from monkeys and that others thought humans were 'higher' than animals, special creations made in God's image. So when the fundamentalists did their dirty work on my uninformed mind they had an easy time over-coming any feeble reasoning I attempted to counter their arguments with. I was ignorant of the facts, so faith took over. It was only when I finally read Darwin's original work, in my third year of university, that I realized the biggest lie is not evolution but creationism, a lie that continues to keep millions imprisoned in ignorance. The evidence for evolution has been piling up for 150 years, unlike the evidence for creationism, which simply does not exist except in the imaginations of its proponents.
After graduating with distinction and an award for the highest GPA in my program, which was a bit of a boost for my persistent low self-esteem, I continued my education a few years later at law school. By now I was no longer a believer, but never had occasion or reason to publicly declare my unbelief, or even privately with family and friends, as religion was a subject I now avoided. Then one day I was in court, not in my usual position representing a client, but as a witness in a criminal trial. It was the first time I had to decide between swearing on a Bible, or other 'holy' book, or simply swearing an oath. I had not given it any prior thought, but on the stand I immediately decided to swear an oath. I had seen plenty of people, including police officers, lie after swearing on the Bible, so I knew that was a charade and no guarantee of truth-telling. I realized afterwards that that was my first public rejection of the Bible and my former beliefs.
So, as I said, I did not become an atheist over-night. I was never on an anti-Christian crusade and don't consider myself a militant, evangelical atheist or other similar pejorative used to describe atheists. I was simply on my own personal path of recovery, discovery and enlightenment that led unavoidably to atheism. The fact that I now openly discuss my unbelief, work to expose religion-related abuse, and in the process sometimes criticize or ridicule beliefs of others, some of which I too once held, does not make me anti-Christian or an atheist crusader.
In law school I focused on areas such as human rights, civil rights, aboriginal rights and social justice. I was more interested in being an advocate for those on the margins of society and speaking truth to power than in supporting the elite and the status quo. I became a community advocate and activist for drug addicts, street prostitutes and the poor. It is that human rights training and experience that I bring to this question of who is the real anti-Christian, me or my fundamentalist accuser, who is also a former member of the same Christian cult as me, I should point out. However, his path to cult recovery was very different than mine, as he chose to remain a fundamentalist and close his mind to any further inquiry outside of that dogmatic system. He took some theology and pastoral courses, and discarded the more radical, extra-Biblical doctrines of the cult, but otherwise simply moved from one fundamentalist position to another. It's as if we both escaped from the same dangerous situation, but he simply moved across the street whereas I moved to the other side of the world.
Continue reading full article at Who is the Real Anti-Christian: the Atheist or the Fundamentalist Christian?
I have also added a comment to a news article that I have archived on my Religion and Child Abuse news blog that gives a small glimpse into my early life in the Children of God cult. The news article concerns a teen who died from a ruptured appendix due to religiously motivated medical neglect.
Teen died agonizing death from ruptured appendix while parents, relatives and church elders did nothing but pray for 3 days
NOTE BY PERRY BULWER - August 27, 2009
Keeping this archive updated can be down right depressing at times. There is no end to the cruel abuses perpetrated on children by religious believers. Only a small percentage of that abuse ever makes it into a news or magazine article, however, and this blog only archives some of those articles. Nevertheless, in less than a year and a half, I have already accumulated over 1300 articles. Some of them hit closer to home for me than others, such as the article below, which triggered some traumatic memories for me.
You see, I was 17 years old, the same age as the teen in this article, when I came down with appendicitis. Just over a year earlier, in 1972, I had joined the Children of God cult, now known as The Family International. After several intense months of indoctrination, I was sent to the 'mission field' of Japan. The cult was just getting rooted there, with only a few scattered communes, so new-comers like me were immediately sent on the road, two by two, to sell literature. While staying in a youth hostel, I began to get severe abdominal pains during the night. As morning dawned I was in obvious agony, so my partner informed the hostel manager who immediately suggested I go the hospital, which was right across the street. I refused to go, however, because I had effectively been indoctrinated by the cult to believe that any sickness or medical problem was a sign of disobedience to God. I was also taught that going to doctors showed a lack of faith -- if I was sick it was a test of my faith in God -- and that sickness was often a sign of yielding to the devil. I had also seen others in the cult punished, reprimanded or criticized for being sick. In short, the cult believed, and still does, that physical ailments have spiritual origins---either God is testing you or the devil is attacking you.
Doubled over in agony, barely able to walk, I continued to resist going to the hospital for several hours out of fear of displeasing God and my cult leaders. The pain became so unbearable, however, that I eventually gave in and went to the emergency ward. It took a few hours for the test results, during which time I thought I might die, the pain was so bad. Finally, the doctor told me I either had a severe infection or appendicitis and gave me the option of two courses of action. By that time, I was almost delireous with pain, I could hardly think straight, so I told him I just wanted the pain to stop and he should decide for me. He decided to open me up, and after the emergency surgery he told me I had had acute appendicitis and that my appendix could have burst at any time.
I spent several days recuperating, during which time my partner contacted the cult leaders hundreds of miles away in Tokyo. After I was released, I went to the nearest cult commune to recuperate, and the cult leaders came down to speak to me, or I should say, to punish me. That's exactly what they did. They told me that I had endangered the work of God in Japan, and as punishment I would be sent back to America. To cult members, that was like a death sentence, since this apocalyptic cult believe the deranged teachings of David Berg, who claimed America would soon be destroyed by God for their wickedness.
I nearly suffered the same fate as the teen in the article below, because of religious indoctrination. When I refused medical care, I was not doing so from an informed, rational, uncoerced position, but out of fear instilled in me through indoctrination into Christian fundamentalism. So keep that in mind as you ponder whether the teen in this article was freely exercising his religious rights, or was under undue influence and pressure not to seek medical treatment.Read the news article Teen died agonizing death from ruptured appendix while parents, relatives and church elders did nothing but pray for 3 days