Friday, March 9, 2012

    Bruce Ratcliff: "How I Became a Humanist"

    I was raised on a farm in central Iowa. My parents were both from strong, fundamental, and active Protestant traditions in which they believed wholeheartedly. Family life for me was a very loving environment, but it was also entwined with religious activity. We had prayer at every meal, daily devotions, bedtime prayers plus at least two religious radio programs daily. Every Sunday we attend Sunday School, Morning and Evening Services, and Youth Group. In addition to all this we attended Billy Graham films, participated in or attended “gospel sings,” went to Revival Meetings, and attended evangelical (“soul-winning”) summer youth camps. The first “crack” in my religious shell occurred in my early teens when I began to notice that neither my prayers (nor anyone else’s) seemed to reach any Higher Being or get any real results. I began to think that anyone who believed in prayer was either fooling themselves or trying to impress others.

    I graduated from my one-room country schoolhouse after the 8th grade. Fortunately, I was bussed to a High School in a college town nearby. My biology teacher was great and taught evolution without apology. From that point forward I accepted evolution without question although I had to rationalize to make it fit my Bible-believing Christianity. I later attended an out-of-state university where I hoped to become a bit more worldly. But, I soon discovered that my lack of other social skills limited me mostly to Christian groups and so I was pulled back into that lifestyle. In college I started directing church choirs on a professional basis. As a senior I became President of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship—a somewhat more moderate “evangelical” group. I also married a Baptist girl that I had met in one of my church choirs.

    Through the following 40 some years I played the mainline moderate Christian role. I continued as a part-time minister of music and/or choir director. I think I would now label myself then as a “Smorgasbord Christian” or a “Christian Agnostic” i.e., taking the parts I liked and setting the other stuff in a drawer. During this period I heard a couple thousand sermons and thousands of Bible readings. Finally, the “game” became harder and harder to play because there was no internal belief left in me. I had to fess up to being intellectually dishonest. I resigned my church membership in 2008 and became a member of the Humanist Society in 2009. Becoming a non-theist takes a lot of social courage when you come from a background such as mine. Actually, I don’t think my stance in adult life was all that unique. I dare say that there are thousands of intelligent, agnostic Christians out there who find their current social settings just too comfortable to leave. Hopefully, the non-theist community can “get the word out” as we gain in numbers across the country. Agnostic Christians need an alternative community in order to make the bold move to non-theism. Here’s hoping!