No one falls from grace in one smooth movement. There is a clumsy and gradual descent from faith to disbelief with an extended layover in skepticism. Some might try on a new religion or modify their worldview to ease the landing. But one action is guaranteed and immediate: revolt.
Growing your hair or dancing at a club may not seem like a sincere rebellion, but at Liberty it’s practically anarchy. I shrugged off all of the rules that were designed to mold me into Jerry Falwell’s idea of an upstanding and God-fearing young man. I was even able to masturbate without any guilt.
With this new freedom came the increasing feeling of uncertainty. My new attitude allowed me to dismiss the darkest parts of the Bible where God commands the murder of children and condones rape—they don’t tell you about 1 Samuel 15:3 in Sunday School—but throwing out the bad parts made it harder to trust the good. To compensate I chased ever more diligently after liberation.
My roommates and I went running through the courtyard of girls’ dorms up the hill from our own with our pants around our ankles (we kept our boxers up, not being completely without modesty). I walked a cereal dispenser from the cafeteria about a half-mile back to my room. I pierced my tongue and my nipple. I rediscovered cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. And yes, I had sex.
Stories like mine aren’t uncommon at Liberty University. It is marketed as a haven for moral purity, but there were always rumors of parties and so-and-so and his girlfriend behind Vines Center. I knew a guy who would sign out to the library after the midnight curfew to meet girls for oral sex.
Now I can’t speak for my fellow apostates, but my own reasons for straying from the straight and narrow were not the pursuit of sinful pleasures. Sure, I got some of that in the process, but only as a byproduct.
I had been drawn to religiosity because of the infallible guide for everyday living. When you enlist in the ranks of the saved (more likely when you are commissioned as a child), you’re given a big, fat book to consult for every occasion. Your choices are pretty much laid out for you by divine authority. Any grievance you may find with it betrays only your limited understanding.
People who have never been religious may underestimate the comfort of deferring every decision and opinion to a higher power. It eliminates worry from every dilemma, responsibility from all consequences. It is a kind of freedom. And as I was figuring out, it is complete bull.
The books of the Bible were written by mystics and madmen and compiled by the Roman Emperor Constantine in a pragmatic effort to unite his empire. The beloved tome that is recited at weddings, funerals and all sorts of celebrations is a shrewd and calculated political maneuver. Within its pages are genocide, human trafficking, bigotry, magic and monsters.
The Bible is about as morally and logically sound as a schizophrenic pedophile, and I was tired of defending it. But so deeply was my indoctrination that I couldn’t let it go. The need for security and the struggle to be free of that need left me angry and hopeless, wandering for years in a philosophical desert.