This is an interview with Jared Brandon, author of the website Waking Up – Once Christian, now turned Atheist. Jared was raised in a strongly Christian family but through his own research into religion, decided to turn away from religious beliefs and declare himself an Atheist.
You talk in your blog about giving your heart to Jesus at only 4-5 years of age. When did you become aware that some people had different beliefs to your family?
That’s hard to say. I don’t think it was a sudden realisation I had one day. My parents took me to church from soon after I was born. I think I would have realised that not everyone goes to church early on. But I have memories of being 7 or 8 and knowing I was different to others at school.
Did you go to a Christian Primary School or a State Primary School?
I went to a State Primary School.
How did you find schooling with non-Christian kids?
This is a complicated question. I struggled to make good friends at school. There could of been many reasons for this. Maybe me being a Christian and being “different” played a part. But I don’t at all blame my faith for lack of good friends. Other than that, interacting with non-Christian kids was fine. Most of my good friends when I was young (the ones I would hang out after school with) were church based friends though.
How did you and your Christian friends view other non-Christian kids?
The word “non-Christian” sums it up nicely. They were non-us. We had the truth, they didn’t. We were saved, they weren’t. But that was only at a deeper level. At an everyday level I would interact with non-Christian kids just fine. There was no conflict or awkwardness about it. It was pretty normal.
And what about your high schooling?
Much the same as in primary school. I was saved, they were lost. They knew I was a Christian, and I viewed them as non-Christian. But I was from a small town, and there was only a handful of Christians my age to be friends with. So I interacted with non-Christians all the time without a second thought. I had some really good friends who weren’t Christians at High School and that was totally fine. Occasionally religion was brought up in conversation, but it wasn’t a big deal.
My Daughter has been scared by some of the things that kids at school say about god always being there, like she’s being watched! I also remember being frightened by parts of the bible as a kid. I’ve noticed that bible classes seem to hide a lot of the frightening parts of Christian beliefs but the kids still hear about it. Was fear a part of your faith as a kid?
I don’t remember many negative based teachings to scare me into my faith. I don’t think my faith was shaped around fear too much. I genuinely believed God was real and because I was saved, I was going to heaven when I died. So I had nothing to fear.
But growing up, I was well aware of the place called hell, where the non-Christians go. It’s hard to say how much the threat of hell kept me a strong Christian. It didn’t feel like it did, but there may well of been something deeper than that.
Many church services would end with a call to salvation. For those that wanted to dedicate their lives to Jesus. It was quite common for the preacher to say something like, “if you were to die on the way home tonight, do you know where you would go? You need to know this: Hell is real, and the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ”. Young kids didn’t hear that though, they were in Sunday school. Over 13 years old they did though.
Your blog mentions “speaking in tongues” and being “slain in the spirit” at church. What age did this happen for you and what’s going on when people do this?
How do I explain this?! ha. Been slain in the spirit usually happens when someone prays for you. (Normally a pastor who has the anointing or power of the holy spirit on them). The idea is the power in the prayer (the Holy Spirit) physically knocks you back and you fall onto the ground. It happened to me a couple of times. Everyone reacts to the Holy Spirit in different ways though. Some don’t fall over, other’s can barely stand up straight. They’re shaking, laughing, not in control of their body movements. Kinda like being drunk I suppose.
As for speaking in tongues. It’s pretty much talking in an unknown language that the Holy Spirit gives you. It’s kind of like once you’ve “clocked” prayer in your own language you can move to the next level and pray in a tongue that has more power than just your English words have. It’s a great tool when you just don’t know how to pray for something. Just speak in tongues and let the Holy Spirit do the work!!
As for how it happens in the first place. I was specifically prayed for to receive the gift of tongues. I was encouraged to just open my mouth and just speak whatever comes out. Basically have faith that what I was saying was actually the language of the Holy Spirit in me, and not to doubt that it was just my brain making it up. At first it was just a few sounds. But this expanded to maybe 3 or 4 sentences of different sounds or (words) that I could say as I practiced it over about the space of a week.
I can still speak in tongues now! I was around 14-18 when these things happened.
I’ve heard that it’s considered unusual to be religious at university. When you went to uni, how did you deal with the greater exposure to a secular (and more hedonistic) life?
My first year at university I stayed at a Christian dorm. Then I flatted with Christian flatmates after that. So my social circles were very Christian. No wild parties for me! But I know that some Christians stayed in secular dorms and found it difficult. For others, it was their first year outside their parents influence. They got a little loose and had a good time!
You obviously have a rational and analytical way of thinking that led you to study Electronic Engineering and then go on to test your own beliefs. Why do you think people accept “magical” explanations to justify religious beliefs but not other aspects of their daily life?
Especially if you’re brought up in a Christian family like I was, it’s hard wired into your brain. So it becomes as natural as walking or talking. Added to that is all of eternity is at stake with this belief. So there’s real motivation to keep it!!
And secondly, if you’re not taught good critical thinking skills it’s very easy to see a “coincidence” as God working in your life. It’s real easy to get tricked into believing in prophecies, miracle-healings and the like. It can be quite easy to believe in God if you don’t think too hard.
So when it comes to “magical” explanations you have all the ingredients. It’s hard wired into you, you have every motivation to believe it. And there seems to be proof that it’s true. Oh, and there’s amazing community within the church too. All there to encourage and re-affirm that it’s all true.
Why can Christians be rational and analytical about other things in life, but not their own beliefs? That’s tough to answer. The best thing I can say is, it’s been drummed into them for so long, it makes so much sense to them that it’s easier to dismiss seemingly logical contractions to belief in God, in favour of what they know that they know that they know is true. “God’s bigger than my doubts, he can take care of that” they’d say. They’re taught to just have faith in God and not question it. It’s worked so well for them this far, so they just keep believing.
It’s a real rabbit hole and it’s quite hard to get out of.
What are your thoughts on religious instruction classes being given in state primary schools by volunteers for organisations like the Churches Education Commission?
As a Christian I heard Richard Dawkins say that forcing religion on kids is child abuse. I was quite offended by that statement. As a Christian you’re doing the best possible thing you could do for them. Teaching them the truth and saving them from an eternity in hell!!! Those volunteers in schools are doing the most noble thing they could think to do.
But as I when through my own de-conversion and lost my faith, I realised what Dawkins was saying and it’s so true. It really is mental child abuse. No one has the right to force a belief onto others, especially when they’re impressionable kids. For it’s the kids that have to live with it for the rest of their life. Not the teacher/parent.
I strongly think we should teach kids HOW to think. But not WHAT to think. We have no right to force our beliefs on to others. Instead we should equip kids with good critical thinking skills.
Learn how to rationally work through a situation. How to make good strong arguments and how to avoid being fooled by faulty thinking. And then let the kids decide what they want to belief. It’s their life, not ours.
I find it funny. Christians believe God wants us to freely choose to love him. Out of our own free will. Teaching impressionable kids to have faith that God is real is not giving them a free will. It’s brainwashing them.
Surely God would much prefer knowing that someone grew up with a sound mind who could think for themselves. Then as an adult and using their own free will, work out that God’s real and hence worship him. I can’t see how God gets much kick out of brainwashed robots worshipping him. That really is cruel and I’m sure even God would disagree to that!!!
Do you think that bible classes in state schools discriminate against non-Christian families? If so, why do you think the Human Rights Commission does nothing about it?
I don’t know what it’s like now, but when I was a kid we only had Christianity taught at schools. Which is awesome if you’re a Christian!! Of course you don’t want other beliefs being taught, because it’s yours that’s the truth. So who cares if people don’t agree or other religions aren’t given voice. You’re doing every human a favour by saving them from hell!
But yes, if we’re going to teach religion in schools it’s important that all main religions get equal time and no religion has any bias over the other.
I don’t think I know enough about the Human Rights Commission to make a strong comment. I’m guessing it’s a relic of our past as a Christian nation?
Thanks for the time you’re taking to answer these questions. I really respect the difficult stance you’ve taken in telling your friends and family how you feel.
If you have a story to tell, please get in touch. It doesn’t have to be long!