Written as an appendix to my masters thesis “An Ethical Dilemma: Childhood Conversion in Christian Fundamentalism” in June 2009.

My ‘Thunderbolt’ Moment

This brief account of my personal case is provided to make known the perspective from which this paper was written, to demonstrate how some of the concepts discussed in this discourse apply in practice, and to help correct the misconception that a rejection of fundamentalism is a rejection of God.

The mind-explosion I have experienced is hard to describe. It was not until I began the academic research for this paper that I realised my Christian beliefs and those of my friends and family were classified as “fundamentalist.” I had still thought these beliefs were that of the average Christian, and that my school, being a “non-denominational” school, must have been one of the more open and accepting schools. I was very surprised as my investigations revealed that my school was part of a recent “new independent Christian school movement” that arrived with the Dutch in the 1950s, particularly given that my mother was one of those immigrants. I was even more surprised to learn that our fundamental beliefs were part of a movement that began in the 20th century, and of the change in definition of faith. As I learned I shared my discoveries with my family and friends, which has challenged them to question too. Looking back I can see myself experiencing each of Fowler’s Stages of Faith, up to Stage 5 anyway!

As I mentioned in the introduction, for the first 20 years of my life I was a passionate evangelical Christian. I was born into a Christian family (who are wonderful and I love very much) with Christian parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I was christened at birth, and I “asked God into my heart” every time the Sunday school teacher said aloud “the prayer” at the Sydney Anglican Sunday school of my childhood. At 4 years old I began my schooling at Covenant Christian School (CCS), a new independent Christian school mentioned in chapter 6, where I spent the next 13 years of my life. During my childhood I experienced the Intuitive-Projective stage of faith, with the lasting fear of hell’s eternal damnation a feeling that, although I do not believe hell is a real place, is still a fear deeply buried in my subconscious. It pops up on occasion when some Christians I am close to worry that I could end up in hell’s fires if I do not “return to my faith in Jesus”. During my years at CCS I moved on to a Mythic-Literal faith, my entire concept of Christianity based on a one-dimensional interpretation of the Bible and the fundamentalist narrative that my teachers, my parents and my church shared.

During my first two years at university I moved onto the Synthetic-Conventional stage. I lived what I thought was a typical Christian life: daily “private-times” where I would read a chapter of a Christian book and pray. I would go to a “Bible study” group on Wednesday nights, church “youth group” at a Baptist church on Friday nights. I taught Sunday school on Sunday mornings, and attended the evening service on Sunday nights. By my own choice I was baptised and “confirmed” at 19 years old. I had completely dedicated my life to God and believed it was through Jesus I could have this relationship. I openly shared my faith with new friends, who were always a little shocked when I told them about my commitment. I had a coherent orientation in my outlook to life and I felt secure in my Christian identity. I was not afraid of stating what I believed. In my mind life seemed clear although, as Fowler points out, at this stage I had not yet stepped outside the paradigm to reflect on it and I was unaware that I even had it. Although I had not stepped outside the Christian paradigm, I was always interested in learning about other people’s beliefs: if someone was not a Christian I wanted to know why. Yet I struggled to get any answers from my new non-Christian friends at university. They just “didn’t believe Christianity was the truth” but they had no real reason for this choice. They did not want to think about it. The church’s explanation that these “non-believers” wanted to live by their own rules rather than God’s rules (in other words they reject God because they want to have sex, drink alcohol and not go to church) seemed to make sense in my fundamentalist mind. But what I couldn’t understand was how people could care so much about such fickle desires and ruling their own lives for the short 80 years or so we have on earth. This did not compare to the ever-lasting life Christianity had on offer from my point of view.

The transition point for me was like Fowler suggests, caused by ‘a serious clash or contradiction between valued authority sources’. It came in the form of a boyfriend’s father, who had been brought up Catholic and had spent much time in his youth researching the facts and the frauds of religion. It was at this time, at the age of 20, that I first learned about the Crusades and the Inquisition, about Pagan nature of Easter and Christmas, and I realised for the first time that the whole world does not base concept of time on Jesus’ birth (BC/AD), but that other civilisations have their own measurements of history. This ‘thunderbolt moment’ transitioned me into an Individuative-Reflective stage of faith. Following an emotional battle, with everything I based my life seemingly falling apart, I abandoned religion and escaped from the narrow-minded world that surrounded me in Sydney. I travelled and lived overseas for three years, exposing myself to the world-views people in Thailand, Japan and all over Europe.

Although I had rejected Christianity, I had not rejected “God”. Prayer was deeply embedded in my mental processes and whether it was my own deluded mind or was truly a connection with ‘God,’ I could see my prayers being answered, and I felt the comfort and security of a fatherly omni-present force protecting me and guiding me in my daily life. For the first time in my life I began to claim my own identity, with my own boundaries and connections with the divine. On return to Sydney I was once again surrounded by fundamentalism and now feeling at an emotional-distance from it, I decided to do some research for myself. My 92 year old Opa had a fall, I moved in as his carer and was rewarded with the most valuable thing in the world: time. I taught myself the things I had missed out on in my education: the theory of evolution, and a big perspective of the history of humanity in comparison to the history of the universe. I tried to comprehend how humans had evolved so rapidly in such a short space of time. I was slowly becoming more and more reflective, increasing my capacity for critical reflection and dealing with the images still with me from my fundamentalist past. At first I was studying by reading library books, watching documentaries and overloading my Internet browser with hundreds of links. I discovered a new love of learning and soon arrived back at university, but unlike my first degree (in Business), this time I was studying Arts. I wanted to know about the world, about history, about philosophy, psychology, politics and other religions. I chose to study in the interdisciplinary field of Peace and Conflict Studies, which allowed me to pursue such knowledge and piece together the missing pieces of the puzzle in my mind. The very nature of Peace and Conflict Studies, initiated a further transition, now into a Conjunctive faith. Simultaneous to learning about philosophies of peace, and the relationship between religion and war, I was continuing to research and document the history and theology of Christianity. My purpose in this search was driven by a desire to share my knowledge and the freedom of thought, with my younger sisters and cousins, who had also attended CCS and I saw as earlier versions of myself still stuck at stage 2 and stage 3. They had not been exposed to the wider perspectives I had been exposed to through my ex-boyfriend, my travels and my research. Through my inner voice God was leading me to do this research, and faithfully I followed.

I particularly focussed my search on the evidence that supports the two fundamental exegeses: the divinity of Jesus and the holy inerrant Word of God. I considered the “Jesus: liar, lunatic or lord” argument, which presents three mutually exclusive options for who Jesus was, and concludes that unless you are going to call Jesus a liar or a lunatic, then you had better call him Lord.[1] I discovered there were many alternative scenarios which this argument leaves out. I considered the possibility that Jesus was a great teacher whose story, following his death, grew more dramatic as it was transmitted over time. This proposition seemed a whole lot more likely to me than a physical ascension into the heavens above. Where would he go? Heaven, if it is anywhere, is not above us among the stars and other planets! I may have believed this idea had I still thought the earth was flat, however things have changed since the time of Jesus. Discovering that the supernatural elements such as the virgin birth and resurrection were also elements of pagan religions, gives credence to the alternative view that Jesus was a great teacher but not divine. It seemed that these elements of pagan myth were added to the story to fit in the context of Roman pagan religion. The fact that Christmas and Easter were pagan traditions adopted by Christianity,[2] made it seem highly likely that the stories of Jesus are contextually shaped.[3]

Similarly, the Bible is justified as the inerrant “Word of God” simply because the church makes this claim. The church gives no consideration to the inadequacy of such an internal circular logic, or to the fact that the verses used support this claim were written before the the books of the Canon had been selected.[4] Similarly no mention is that Paul and other New Testament authors did not even infer that their writings were being divinely inspired.[5] I looked for errors in the Bible, and I found they were numerous. From inevitable translation errors that come from the fact that Ancient Hebrew did not contain punctuation[6] to discrepancies over event details,[7] all of which were soon “harmonized” away in my discussions with Christians; either with far-fetched explanations, or with the backup harmonization “you just have to have faith”.[8] In my Christian education the willingness of the early Christians to die for their beliefs was glorified, and yet there was no mention of the Inquisitional killing of anyone who would not believe.[9] The Christian narrative was taught just as Spong states, as if it ‘dropped out of heaven in a fully developed form’.[10] There was no mention of the controversial theological debates that moulded it along the way. The research for this paper was the crux of my journey, and it is my hope that along with providing insights for academic readers, that it may provide some points for self-reflection for fundamentalists and that it may help assist them on the emotionally challenging process of questioning one’s faith and beliefs.

Transitioning from a Literal faith to a Conjunctive faith is not an easy process. Taking responsibility for one’s own faith, and ensuring it is a faith that you have chosen for yourself rather than a consequence of your upbringing, is a worthwhile pursuit. It gives generous rewards both during the process and at the end when you feel your relationship with God deepen in understanding and integrity. Breaking from institutionalised intermediaries, you move from a world that appears black and white to unveil an exciting reality of a God and Universe of many colours and many forms with whom you may live your life in accordance with “His” will, which in a strange way is entirely connected to your own will. It is my understanding that God is not a separate super-human consciousness, sitting up in the clouds with a magic wand. Instead “He” is an all-encompassing presence that we humans personify in order to comprehend and communicate with. However “He” is not a he, “He” is the powerful presence behind life, encompassing the tiniest quantum molecule inside a single grain of sand, and extending out to the most faraway planets in galaxies trillions of light years away. “He” is in the air, in the water, in our food, and in our mind. An omni-presence that allows “Him” to know everything, to know how many hairs are on our heads, and to know each and every one of our thoughts. I believe it is through this knowing of our thoughts, that prayers are answered. Our thoughts are transmitted and in themselves have consequences. “Ask and you will receive, knock and the door will open.” I have realised you can talk to God in your mind, and listen to “Him” through the many ways “He” communicates, not only through historical Holy Books, but through nature, through other humans, through your deepest intuitions, through art, books, music – through everything.

I have noticed in my life that by asking God and listening to “Him”, your past, present and future self combine in a way that allows your will to align with God’s will. It seems that the most unlikely desires, if they will lead to a positive result in the long run for the collective conscious of life, may be fulfilled if only you ask. I think that the most satisfying thing you can do in your life is find your purpose and live it out. Ask how you can provide the most benefit for the most people. Listen to your intuition as this is God communicating with you. Understand your place in the universe and your unique role in fulfilling God’s purpose: to create. God created us and is continuing to create. We are still evolving and this process will never stop. Why does God do this? So that He can know Himself. We have God inside us and we are made in His image. We are God’s expression of himself. As we express ourselves, we express God. How do we love God? By loving all people. Loving our planet. Being grateful for all we have. By having faith, listening to the God’s communication, following His signs and our deepest intuitions, and thereby living out our individual and collective roles in the universe. Fulfilling our potential.

When Jesus said ‘I’ve not come to call the righteous but to call sinners to repent,’ He was calling for an improvement of behaviour. By following His example we will see a change in the hearts and minds of people, that will lead to a state of peace within individual conscious and collective conscious. Jesus was a teacher, a healer and eventually executed for his ideas and for the radical stands he stood against the religious leaders and status quo, against the structural violence of his world 2000-years ago, the cultural-societal prescribed path that he faced, and leading a revolution of heart and mind. It is now in the 21st century, that it is our turn to follow Jesus, and do the same.

But how do we do this? Our identity is caught up in our religion. We don’t know who we are without it. How would we define ourselves? How would we decipher what is right from what is wrong without the Bible as our guidebook? We share with our friends and family a wonderful blanket of security. We are warm, comfortable, and happy to think that our place in the afterlife is assured. Questioning this brings a fear of the future, and the uncertainty it holds. We feel we have no time to research these matters for ourselves, and we do not feel the need. We are satisfied with the simple explanation our church provides us of good versus evil, it makes sense and the outside world seems so confusing. Most of all we confront our fear of punishment, punishment for questioning, eternal punishment in hell’s fires should the fundamentalism be right, and the new path we choose for ourselves be wrong. What will happen to me after I die? These fears will soon be met with God’s love and assurance once again.

For the last 6000-years, humankind has become more conscious of our consciousness, ever since we, in mythological terms, “ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge.” As a side effect we have seen ourselves become more separate from other life forms and from God. However, this does not need to be the case. Our expanded consciousness is an amazing gift that allows us to express God in new ways. However we can expand our consciousness, express ourselves as creative individuals, and remain aware of the underlying connectedness of all life. When we disconnect from God, either through disfigurations of religion or by abandoning religion altogether, our separateness makes us feel alone and afraid, of what will happen to our consciousness when our human bodies die. But we are not separate from our environment or from each other. Our existence is interconnected. We cannot survive without our air, food, water and relationships. Plants transform our carbon to oxygen and provide us our food. God can be seen in every process, every cell, every animal, and inside us. Our existence is not comprised of the separateness we feel in our human defined identities, the separate consciousness of ‘me,’ but our existence is interdependent on everything. We are together, there is no ‘me’ there is only ‘us’.

The separate conscious we experience is a temporary illusion, allowing God to express his creativity and experience different realities. One day we will return to God, we will no longer separate, no longer experiencing the highs and lows – we will return to blissful peace of oneness. This is a place that we can meditate into, experiencing a temporary reuniting with God. This is what Buddhists find as they are enlightened. Even atheists must imagine the feeling of death, when our separate consciousness ceases to be conscious. We are returning to the state we were in before we were conscious – a return to nothing and a return to everything. Realise your connectedness, realise that you are not separate from God now nor will you ever be – then you can never feel alone. If you can see yourself in all things, you understand that death is not death, for you can never die. Even when our planet dies, we will continue to exist, beginning the wonderful evolutionary creative process once again in some alternate universe in some alternate time.

There is much to explore and learn and it is overwhelming at first. But we soon realise that we are all in this together, manifesting our individual and collective purposes in life and so the questioning and evaluation process becomes easy. Family and friends will see the joys of experiencing the deeper levels of reality you are experiencing. There is no need to fear anything – instead focus your mind and emotions on love. On loving God and loving others, for in the synchronicity of life, God, other humans and the Universe, are all you.

My faith today is stronger than ever. ‘How?’ asks my Dad, ‘Based upon what?’ My faith and understanding of God is not based on an authoritatively prescribed absolute, so there is no stock-standard simplistic answer as my Dad is able to place on the “historical evidence” as presented in the Christian Bible. My faith is based on deductions drawn from my own analytical evaluation of all the knowledge I have been exposed to and all the experiences I have had. As I am exposed to new knowledge and more experiences, the basis for my faith grows stronger and closer to the Truth, which I believe is a universal objective, even if humans will never fully discover it. This includes deductions drawn from what I see, hear, smell, taste, touch and feel; from my current understanding of language, history, science, religion, spirituality; and from the growing personal experiences I have with the unknown force driving the unfolding creation and evolution of our universe. I don’t claim that all these philosophies I describe are the one and only truth! They are simply the evolving results of my journey of faith.

I have gone from the very narrow perspective of my fundamentalist upbringing, blocking out much of the world in fear of loosing my assured place in heaven to a perspective that sees the unknown and embraces it, that rejoices over the uncertainty of life, and enjoys the ongoing process which learning allows for developing a deeper understanding of the purpose of my life in His continuous process of creation. I now have a closer relationship and much deeper understanding of God than could ever have been possible in the fundamentalist paradigm of my past. To take responsibility for your own mind and soul is scary at first, but then it is liberating. Your mind and soul are free to think for yourself.

While we can never know what new discoveries lay just outside our present knowledge, we can appreciate what we do know and enjoy the process of seeking to know more. When you have a question I recommend that you research it and draw your own conclusions, so that you are actively pursuing a deeper understanding of Truth, a deeper understanding of the Universe that God has created and which you and “He” are still continuing to create. Whether or not we ever achieve our goal of understanding the Truth is not important. When we realise that all people in all cultures and in all religions, are connected, and that we all seek this same common goal, we realise that joining together we can create a most wonderful synergy: sharing knowledge, sharing experiences, and sharing our understanding of the divine powers at play. Then we can, together, work for the common good of every form of life in our Universe. Continuing as part of God’s creative process, expressing “Him” in new ways, maximising our individual and collective creative potentials, advancing the collective conscious of the Universe to higher levels of understanding and spirituality. We are all a wondrous part of this exciting process and incredibly, if we set our sights on Shalom, the Kingdom of God, Peace on Earth, it will come. All we have to do is ask.

[1] The ‘Trilemma’ argument first put forth by C.S.Lewis, but as restated for Christian youth by Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter(New York: Tyndale House Publishers, 1977, 2004).

[2] Christmas was on the winter equinox (25th December in those days) – was a celebration of the birth of the sun-god. Easter was on the spring equinox – for thousands of years had been a celebration of the death and resurrection of Ishtar, the goddess of new-life.

[3] See Spong, A New Christianity for a New World. On page titled: Jesus.

[4] For example, 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed”. See the opening of each Bible book.

[5] For example, Luke makes it particular clear he is attempting to put together a cohesive historical account of what people are talking about; he is clearly not claiming to be writing words inspired by God. See: Luke 1:1-4.

[6] Gerald L. Schroeder, The Hidden Face of God : How Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth (New York ; London: Free Press, 2001).

[7] For example, the conflicting genealogies of Matthew and Luke identify different fathers for Joseph’s father (Jesus’ grandfather).

Another example, is that each of the gospels state that Mary Magdalene visited Jesus tomb with a different person (Mathew states she was with one other woman while Mark states she was with two, Luke states three, and John states she went alone).

[8] For example the Joseph’s father might be harmonized by stating that ‘Joseph’s father might have changed his name sometime during his life from Jacob to Heli’.

Similarly the discrepancy between the women at the tomb can be harmonized by stating that ‘Mary Magdalene could have made one trip to the tomb alone. She could have followed this up with repetitive returns to the city and trips with various combinations of other women’ – this is ‘a very improbable story, but one that allows the Bible to be free of error.’

See: B. A. Robinson, ‘Harmonizing Apparent Conflicts & Errors in the Bible’.  (Ontario: Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, April 2009). <www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none4.htm>.

[9] Popular readings among fundamentalist youth include: Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door (New York: Word Publishing, 1992). and Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Michigan: Zondervan, 1988). These books provide one-sided arguments that were very convincing to me while my mind was looking inside the Christian paradigm. Once I learned how to critically analyse and was able to think through these arguments for myself, I realised just how biased the facts presented are, and how mislead the format of the argument is.

For a liberal Christian opinion see: John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture : Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love (Pymble, N.S.W.: HarperCollins, 2005).

[10] Spong, A New Christianity for a New World. On page titled: Jesus. op. cit.


Further Reading

This is a short book that I wrote in 2007-8, documenting my questions, the answers I found and thought processes involved in weighing up different factors involved in dedicating oneself to Christianity:

Chapter 1 – Introduction Click here

Chapter 2 – Is the Bible the “Word of God”? Click here

Chapter 3 – Is Jesus Christ the “Son of God?” Click here

Chapter 4 – Discussing the contradictions Click here

Chapter 5 – What does this mean for my life today? Click here

Chapter 6 – My conclusions Click here