This is the de-conversion story of Rickey Green in Memphis, Tennessee. This is his narrative of how he lost faith in God. It deals with a number of issues, from Christian culture, to abuse, to pain and suffering and the problem of inerrancy. The Wondering Eagle would like to thank Ricky for his courage in sharing his story.
“It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.”
“There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure truth.”
Memphis Skyline (Wikipedia)
Today we are kicking off what will be a regular series of people who explain why they lost their faith in God, or how they de-converted from Christianity. I am hoping we can do this once a month. I like to do this because of my own faith crisis which I had, and even today I still believe there are challenging issues in Christianity that many Christians can’t talk about or properly address. For example the problem of evil is still a difficult issue I would contend. Recently Rickey Green from Memphis, Tennessee approached me and offered to tell his story of how he de-converted. Its a troubling story that shows the issues of Christian culture, abuse, pain and suffering and inerrancy among other issues. So before I turn this over to Rickey let me say a few things.
Rickey thanks for being courageous and writing what you did below. Some of this hits a nerve in me and I can very much empathize with your post below in certain ways. I went through a faith crisis that was hell. That said I never had some of the abuse you wrote about below, but I did encounter other issues. I am sorry about the abuse which happened in your life. And I am equally sorry about some of the family situations you had in your life. I have a lot to say but I want to comment down below as I am sure other people will engage. But I do want you to know that if you find yourself in the Washington, D.C. area you are free to look me up. I would be happy to buy you a drink and chill for an afternoon. The one neat thing about this blog is that I get to meet some really neat people all across the spectrum. While your life has been filled with pain I want to emphasize that it sounds like you have an amazing wife and children. While I wish I could take away the pain, I am thrilled that you have that to see in your life Ricky. Lastly I want to leave you with this encouragement…keep asking questions. Its good that you are and your honesty and search for truth is to be commended. You raise some really good questions that I believe the Christian faith has a difficult time discussing. Okay I will turn this over to you, know that I love you bud!
My deconversion story is one that I’ve wanted to tell for such a long time because, frankly, I don’t hear a ton of people who come out with deconversion stories that were “saved” at a later age, as I was at 19. My brief background is of importance – I came from a broken household: dad was a drug dealer who left when I was 9 and he was supremely abusive, beating my mother and me to a pulp at times. He used the whole “I will kill you if you tell anyone” story until he up and decided to go in June of 1984, again when I was 9. Mom was a nominal Christian, as we were farm people and would occasionally go to the family Methodist church when we had the appropriate clothes to not be made a spectacle – we were very poor, though our extended family was quite wealthy.
We didn’t go to church and mom would occasionally read the bible, while saying that the movie “The Guyana Tragedy” about Rev. Jim Jones is why she became a Christian.
Mom was my everything. We are still relatively close, even though she fears for my eternal soul – she will listen to my arguments against the bible using only the bible and she will pray for me. She had me convinced from a young age that there was this God who would strike you dead with a lightning bolt if you lied to your mother. Her grandmother, whom I loved dearly, taught me that there was this devil who would come get me in the middle of the night and take my soul to this fiery place where I could never leave, if was not good in school and did not read the bible – which I didn’t for the record.
When I was 10, September 10, 1985, I went to a hot dog supper at First Baptist Church in West Memphis, Arkansas, with my babysitter’s kids. Long story short, I was called down to the altar and prayed the sinner’s prayer. Boom! I was saved. Friends from school were there and they made a line to shake my hand afterwards, etc. My favorite 5th grade teacher was also there and I loved her so much and she was elated that I had given my heart to Jesus. Mom was super excited as were the rest of the family. As for me, I was happy that, when dad came to kill us as I believed, I’d at least go to heaven.
As a teen I had that fire insurance and I would pray my “Now I lay Me’s” nightly along with my daily “Our Father’s”. I didn’t “live it” because I didn’t think I needed to. My mom was a raging drunk yet a functional alcoholic, always working to provide for my brothers and me. I had a very charismatic aunt who used to cast demons out of me all of the time. I worried constantly that the angel of death my great grandmother spoke of was coming – literally every night i would look at the foot of my bed 10-15 times to check and make sure it wasn’t my time for hell yet. All throughout my teen years, consequently, when I started having what I now understand are panic attacks. (I have been diagnosed with PTSD, OCD and Panic Disorder, a lot coming from the abusive trauma I received both from my dad as well as being abused at school until I was in 9th grade, and watching almost everyone that I loved die in some form or fashion. Mainly family members, mainly cancer, but a few school friends as well. I am still in therapy and on meds and still angry that no local doctor will discuss religious trauma with me about my issues).
Fast forward to when I was 19, December 3,1994. I was barely a sophomore in college and I had been bouncing from job to job because I liked to drink, party and sleep more than anything else. I was a line cook a this time, a good and respected one when I showed up to work, and I had recently started working at a buffet restaurant close to home. I met a guy there named “Dee” (protecting the innocent haha) who kept telling me about this Jesus guy who died for me, who wanted to save me, change my life, etc.
So, the night of December the 3, I got off of work early and went home (it was very unusual because Saturday nights were very busy for us). I had been having horrible panic attacks and wasn’t sleeping. My OCD thoughts were of demons, the devil coming to get me, turning lights off and on 30 times in each room, my heart racing with the thoughts of “you’re about to die and go to hell and there’s nothing you can do to change it”. I walked home, turned on the TV and caught the end of a Billy Graham crusade. I sat here and watched as he said “2000 years ago Jesus was hanging on a cross, dying and whie he was hanging there he was thinking of you. He, being God, was looking down through time and he saw you sitting there watching this, and he saaw you in your sin and your fear and your hurt and he saying I love you, I love you, I love you (he slapped the podium each time he said I love you for effect).
Well, that was it. I hadn’t been living for God. I prayed a prayer when I was 10 but that was not enough. I had to live it. i knelt and prayed with brother Billy right there in the floor of mom’s apartment and didn’t even sleep. That next morning I walked to the nearby Baptist church and walked the aisle and made my profession of faith. I prayed with the youth pastor, a good dude and an honest guy, and set up my time to be baptized. That was it. I was a child of God. For real, this time!
I prayed daily, read the bible every day, and even made a copy of the “rules” in the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist to follow daily, to make sure that I was following what Jesus said. I immersed myself in the Scriptures and tried to save everyone I knew and met. I loved having “swordfights” with Catholics, atheists, Mormons, and the like, having on “the full armor of God” as mentioned in Ephesians. I started attending the largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention here in Memphis and got fully involved. I was headed for seminary and I was a prayer warrior, involved in the prayer ministry. I had a very successful children’s ministry run and I coached almost every sport, as I was an employee of the church in the activities ministry. I started a new college Sunday School class and soon after met a girl, who is a subject for another book that I promised her I would write someday.
She and I dated after she had a miraculous healing and I had been “called” to pray for her long before we met. She ended up dying from what she had been healed from 2 years after we met. We were engaged and I believed up until she passed on while in a week long coma that God was going to heal her. I remember her funeral and her burial and won’t ever forget any of it, and my wife now of 11 years is such a sweetheart in helping me deal with some of the pain that lingers. Her death was one of the first cracks.
Right before she passed away, I read in the book of Mark this one verse during the passion narrative about a young man who ran away from the scene naked. Believing the bible to be inerrant, infallible and God-inspired, this verse had to be in here for a reason. And I was at the at the time largest church in the nation, and had very close friendships with some of the best pastors and ministers around to this day. No one had an answer for me on why that verse was there. I could not understand why NO ONE could have an answer for me. Small crack in the armor but nothing more.
Then I read other stories about healings while “Leslie” was dying. She and I would pray daily and after the awesome thing (and it was pretty amazing) God had done then of course he would heal her again. “Leslie” and I were planning her inevitable funeral while her best friend was planning her own wedding.
So, “Leslie” passes, I stay at the church for almost two years, still going through the motions. I was involved to the hilt, there every day while I finished my business degree from the University of Memphis. I was heavily involved in soccer (having been an American football player my whole life) and that was another outlet for me.
Up until Leslie’s untimely death, I listened to only Christian music. I ran 6-7 miles 5 days a week and listened to my Christian music, Christian AM radio (conservative bible teachers) or just prayed. After she passed, I felt like I had finished a mission, “being a good soldier of Jesus Christ” from 2 Timothy 2:3-4 (from memory dude lol) and she was “home” safely. 2 years after her passing, a close mutual friend of she and I who had moved away to Canada came down and we had dinner. She asked how I was doing and told me that she had been over at Leslie’s home and talking to Leslie’s mom (whom I am still crazy about, and her dad. Her brother is my best friend on the earth to this day) and Leslie’s mom told this friend, “You know, I am fine, doing ok. I miss Leslie, but the person that I am the most worried about is Rickey. He is still so active in teaching and coaching, with seminary, but people at church avoid him. I see them move to the other side of the hallways to not have to interact with him. I worry about him so much.”
Crack upgraded to fissure. I hadn’t taken anytime at all to think about it, but Leslie’s mom was absolutely correct. People whose children I had taught in Sunday School and coached in soccer and basketball avoided me. I even watched for myself, being as objective as possible, for the next few weeks and I saw it,too. Why would God let people push me away? Why did they push me away? I reached out to a few minister friends, I reached out to long time friends, and all of a sudden, no one had any time for me. I had given SO much, all in the name of Jesus of course, but I had given of myself every “gift” that I had. I was now an Ebola-esque outsider.
So, I quit my job at the church and dropped all classes at the seminary, and immediately got a job working in sales, which is my trade to this day. I was still a believer, but I started having a beer here and there, my mouth got away from me a bit, the guilt came flooding back in, but the pain was greater. I felt like I understood Jesus cry on the cross, “Father, Why have You forsaken me?”
I ignored everything for three years, occasionally visiting a church here and there, until I miraculously met my love of my life and now wife Misty. She was a believer who had doubts, and she had a severe and awful abusive past from her pastor father. She still had faith, though, and this must have been God calling me back to the fold. I started going to church with her and joined up, reading my bible again but this time reading it for how it was written and fissures became earthquakes. I was much more careful and discerning with people I met, and I started studying biblical criticism and reading liberal theology and atheist arguments as I had only read other apologists’ work during my time as an “apologist”.
Misty and I were married, had (and have) four amazing little boys (over a five year span, even though she is a triplet) and the earthquakes became volcanoes and plate shifts until I finally realized, through my own study of the bible as it says “line upon line, precept upon precept” that I had been duped. I fell for the oldest sales pitch in history – that of a god who demands your worship or else. But, with my inquisitive nature, I had to know “why”. I’ve read hundreds of books and hundreds of papers since 2006 on both sides of the argument and I still find Christianity lacking, horribly.
No doubt this has been the hardest thing in my life, harder than losing my grandfather when I was 18 as he was my absolute father figure and a hero to me, and losing “Leslie” at 24. Losing my faith in an imaginary friend, and coming to terms with what that ultimately means, has been horrific. Especially doing it mostly on my own. That’s why I want to be able to help others. When I was in church I felt led to find the “black sheep”, the “ostracized” – I now know that was my own subconscious looking to help other people afraid, alone and cold out in the darkness. Make no mistake – Christians, though there are some good ones, never ever do anything without strings attached,. And how can they when their god is the same?
I get frustrated with atheists who “debate” with Christians, creationists, or apologists yet they stick to “how many logical or other fallacies can we find?” instead of using their book against them. I’ve lately started going through you tube and twitter (7 year pro here – @rgreen75) and asking questions to the likes of Joel Osteen, Steve Gaines, Josh McDowell questions like “Can you please tell me what chapter and verse that Jesus or even God for that matter command that you have a personal relationship with either?”
I hope all this makes sense and there’s plenty to fill in that I may start a blog on or write more of at a later date. thanks for the ear/eye!