From fanatical preacher to atheist
I AM always gratified to learn of people – especially youngsters – enthusiastically promoting secularism and freethought, which is why I always endeavour to publicise their efforts. The upcoming Questival, which I mentioned yesterday, is a prime example.
But what really makes my heart soar is when I hear of diehard fundamentalists seeing sense, and walking away from religion.
Tom Crawford is the latest to come to my attention. Born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, in 1950 he is a retired former senior manager in the health service. Self-taught in theology, this “child of a mixed marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant” he became an evangelical “born again” Christian at the age of 18.
Crawford is now an atheist – and has just published a book entitled Bible Thumper to Atheist in which he poses numerous questions about religion that he claims no Christian fundie can satisfactorily answer. He says of his book:
Over the years I have put many of the questions you will find here to ministers of religion from a wide variety of denominations. None of them could give satisfactory answers, and those who attempted varied with each other to a remarkable degree.
He confesses to have been a Bible pest:
For five years I walked the streets, knocking on doors, giving out gospel tracts and preaching about Jesus Christ. I was a fanatical fundamentalist Christian, to such an extent that when people saw me coming, they would say, ‘here comes the Bible thumper’.
He preached his first sermon from a church pulpit when he was 21, but within two years had abandoned the church.
I now regard myself as atheist regarding the biblical God.
Says Crawford, now a member of the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland:
Many of our political leaders are devout Christians. Believe it or not, a substantial number of them, including the present First Minister, believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, which is in direct conflict with mainstream science.
This mentality sometimes filters down to influence certain political debates. It is not too many years ago that I can remember when children’s swings were locked up with huge chains on a Sunday, and leisure centres closed because our religious politicians said it was against God’s law. The only activity not frowned upon was walking!
Although children’s playgrounds and leisure centres are now open on a Sunday, there are still difficulties organising other events on the ‘Sabbath’. There is still an element of ‘Taliban’ type mentality in this country!
Crawford says that the people he would like to influence most:
Are those individuals who are torturing themselves because of the fear of everlasting punishment in hell. Many of these people are putting themselves under unnecessary duress because they feel they have sinned against some imaginary god in the sky.
I personally know such people, and because they can’t get satisfactory answers from their church or prayer, they are falling into bouts of depression and despair. They think they are unworthy wretched sinners, when in fact, they are normal human beings.
I would like such people to realise that they can live a normal happy life, without the fear of eternal punishment. The sooner they realise that this is the only life we have, the sooner they can start to enjoy themselves. To punish or deprive oneself of the things you have always enjoyed in the past, is foolish, especially if it never harmed friends or family. Many religions throughout the world work on the same principles as Christianity: Penance now, for the hope of greater reward in the life to come.
The other people Crawford would like to influence are those whose actions cause splits and division among families and friends because of their strict fundamentalist interpretation of scripture in relation to religious differences, for example, intermarrying between Protestant and Roman Catholics.
Sometimes when a person becomes a Christian, they are told by their church leaders, or members, that they should not be, ‘unequally yoked’ with an unbeliever. They are encouraged to find new friends and partners who are also believers.
I believe if evangelical Christians can be given reason to doubt that they know, and possess the absolute truth, they may just become a bit more tolerant towards others, resulting in less friction in our community.