Why I Retired from Religion

Received from MRFF Advisory Board Member John M. Compere (Judge and Brigadier General, US Army, Retired)

WHY I RETIRED FROM RELIGION

 

Ancestry

 

My paternal ancestors were French Huguenots persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church who fled France for the New World and freedom from religious oppression. My maternal ancestors were Irish Protestants who left Ireland for the New World to be free from violent religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.

 

Early Years

 

Notwithstanding this ancestral history, it was my privilege to be born and raised on a small ranch in rural Texas where I spent the early years outdoors with nature, animals and family free from repressive religion. My parents were casual, cultural Methodist Protestants who did not belong to or attend a church regularly, but who said grace over meals and prayed many nights expressing gratitude for our lives and blessings. In our extended family, women were the spiritual leaders who encouraged reverence and gratefulness for God’s creation. I learned God created all of us in God’s own image, provided the wonderful Earth to sustain us and declared it to be good. Experiencing the goodness of God and Her creations, love of family, relationships with animals, sunrises, sunsets, seasons, clouds and rain, moon and stars, fauna and flora, cycles of life, miracle of birth, and reality of death confirmed family values and sustained early development. My life as a young ranch kid was indeed very good.

 

A severe and prolonged drought caused a continuing struggle for financial survival. My hopeful mother often said that if we prayed God would answer our prayers. I recall asking my stoic father if she was right about praying. His response was “Yes Son, but make sure your horse is unsaddled, fed, watered and put out to pasture first”. The prayers failed. We eventually lost our ranch and moved to the outskirts of the nearest city, the bible-belt bastion of Abilene.

 

The trauma of involuntarily relocating to a large community full of strange people from the peaceful country solitude where folks were more scarce was soon severely compounded. I learned for the first time from city Christians that I was an unworthy human being born into sin and doomed by a vengeful god to a fiery hell with an evil devil unless I was saved by repenting of my sins in church, was cleansed by church holy water and followed rigid requirements set by the church. Unworthiness, sin, vengeance, hell, devil, being saved, repentance and ritual cleansing were unfamiliar and disturbing concepts to the innocent mind of a child who had not been exposed to negative Christian fundamentalism. I remember requesting my parents to please return us to another rural ranch where the good country God lived so we could get away from the bad city God I did not like. Such regressive religious rhetoric irrationally recited from rote by self-righteous adults and imposed upon children is, in my opinion after having experienced it, immoral psychological child abuse. Today, I know it is bogus and based upon primitive beliefs concocted by semi-literate old males with personal power agendas in ancient foreign cultures which bear no rational relevance to 21st Century America (other than for historical purposes).

 

We remained in the city out of economic necessity and were over-exposed to fundamentalist Christianity. Fortunately, I never accepted the human     manufactured myths about hell, satan, original sin (featuring a talking snake), trinity (unintelligible theology math of one equals three & three equal one), sacrificial atonement (barbaric human sacrifice for deity forgiveness & salvation), and so on. These dubious dogmas were doubted and their hypocritical use questioned by me even back before public school graduation and departure for higher education.

 

Education & Professional Careers

 

Throughout university and law school attendance and graduation, I participated in moderate mainstream Protestant worship and activities. Thereafter, a military legal and judicial career included regular attendance at non-denominational services in military chapels throughout the United States and abroad. A following civilian legal career included membership in a large, progressive United Methodist Church in San Antonio where I took all Christian adult-education courses offered for several years and, for over a decade thereafter, taught a popular advanced educational (not doctrinal) course on biblical history with independent reference sources (2 hours each week for 9 months every year). In an earnest effort to ground my teaching in knowledge, I gathered and studied books, cassettes, videos, DVDs and internet resources on all religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Native American spirituality & others as well as various varieties within each), including origins, histories, sacred writings & authors, philosophy of religion, and comparative and critical analysis of religions.

 

Enlightenment

 

It was during this time I learned critical truths not openly disclosed or discussed by the church or its clergy, including the fact that “The” Bible or an “inerrant” Bible does not exist because there are no original biblical texts – only copies of copies of copies of copies made centuries after originals and altered by human changes, mistranslations, additions, deletions and editing. There are countless biblical versions, all human-corrupted for adherence to human-created doctrines and dogmas. The New Testament gospels are not biographies written by the original disciples whose names are on them but are instead oral stories (hearsay) later compiled into written Greek texts by non-eyewitness anonymous Jewish authors in different foreign communities long after Jesus’ life. They carefully followed the Old Testament to ensure conformity to Hebrew messianic prophesies and the Jewish liturgical year. They are not eyewitness accounts. Centuries later, they were given the names of original disciples to provide authority over other writings circulating about Jesus (In other words, they are forgeries and fraudulent). The perfect, infallible and inerrant “Word of God” (or Yahweh or Allah) is, in truth and reality, the imperfect, fallible and errant word of unknown foreign males marketing their version of the Abrahamic revealed religions.

 

When asked, a few clergy have honestly acknowledged these historical facts and offered two revealing rationalizations. First, the laity cannot handle these truths and, second, they would undermine the credibility and authority of the church that has preached otherwise for centuries. Obviously, this circular reasoning is without merit because the first is a direct result of the second. It is a sad commentary on any religion when truth is trumped by tenuous man-made tenets discredited by historical documentation. Elevating dated religious doctrines devised by ancient foreign males above empirical evidence from history, science, scholarly biblical analysis and many other disciplines is dishonest and a disservice to humanity.  Any religious institution that claims its antiquated man-made authority to be superior to everything else cannot be trusted. Institutional tradition over truth (and justice) may sometime succeed, but it will ultimately fail. “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” (attributed variously to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain or P.T. Barnum).

 

Retirement

 

Several years ago, after retiring from military and civilian careers spanning half a century, my wife and I relocated from San Antonio to the rural Texas community of Baird where she was born, raised and her 4th generation family ranch is located. The nearest city is my home town, biased bible-belt    Abilene. Life is cyclical as well as ironic. The fundamentalist Christian sales force is still pompously peddling the same old parochial product for the purpose of exploiting insecure believers and controlling compliant congregations. Religiously speaking, nothing much has changed out here. Insidious religious bigotry still lingers on, disgracefully discriminating against women and minorities. Back when I attended Abilene public schools, separation of church and state was not even mentioned. Today, it is a concocted controversy opposed by history deniers and regressive religious revisionists who do not want to be bothered with facts, history, the federal constitution, state constitutions or the long established law of our land.

 

Retirement returned us by choice to rural America, where life began for us and where people are still more scattered than in the metropolitan areas of our blessed Country.  We are able to experience once again the peaceful serenity of rural ranch life in the great outdoors with family, animals and nature. Retirement has also provided the opportunity to study other religious, semi-religious and non-religious beliefs (Unitarian/Universalism, deism, pantheism, panentheism, animism, agnosticism, atheism, humanism, secularism & others). I remain relatively comfortable in the familiar and traditional Christian culture – provided I do not have to participate in its religious services or rituals, it is not publicly imposed on me, my family or others excessively, and there continues to be the freedom from public religion, freedom of private religion or non-religion practice and freedom to discuss religion, as provided by our United States Constitution 1st Amendment and Texas Constitution Article I.

 

Conclusion

 

Fear, ignorance, superstition and presupposition are constant companions whose eternal enemies are courage, knowledge, reason and critical thinking. American novelist Ayn Rand pointedly penned “…if devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.” The more one studies institutional religion and its many forms, the more one realizes it is human contrived, corrupted and controlled. “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” – these wise words of American humorist Mark Twain remain true today. The heart cannot accept what the head rejects. The countless confusing and contritional religious rituals are superfluous trappings for the benefit of church and clergy – not the people. The only moral creed we modern humans need is to do good, do no harm and believe what you please but respect the right of others to do the same. American founder Thomas Paine put it perspectively – “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Peanuts cartoon creator Charles Schulz put it plainly – “The best theology is no theology at all; just love one another.” Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell put it philosophically – “The good life is one guided by reason and motivated by love.” World religious leader Tibetan Buddhist The Dalai Lama put it profoundly “…compassion is more important than religion.

 

Harmful conflicts always arise when individuals, groups or institutions attempt to force their version of religion on everyone else. This has resulted in more human misery, oppression, suffering, torture, injury, death and genocide than all other man-made causes combined. The obsessive self-righteousness of religionists to publicly impose their private beliefs on others without respecting the right of others to determine and enjoy their own beliefs (the same right religionists defiantly demand for themselves) is the height of human hypocrisy. It remains a paramount problem that continues to plague our nation and world today. Separation of church and state is historically embedded in the US Constitution and clearly intended by our Founders. It provides freedom from public religion obligation or imposition as well as freedom for private religion or non-religion practice for every American. I am one loyal and patriotic American who is damned tired of it being ignored and disrespected. I will continue to actively advocate for our historic constitutional liberty of separation of church and state until my last breath.

 

As the golden years of life are enjoyed, my belief/moral/ethical/value system has slowly but surely evolved from casual Christianity to progressive Christianity to Deism and finally into secular humanism where it now securely fits. Retirement from organized religion has been enlightening, enriching and emancipating. Becoming a freethinker may not be for everyone, but I wholeheartedly recommend it to all who have the courage to try it.

 

 

John Compere

(a retired Christian, retired Army Brigadier General and Vietnam era disabled veteran, retired Texas lawyer and retired United States judge who resides and ranches with his wife Dolores in rural West Texas)

 

[This article is adapted from an earlier one that appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of Free Inquiry.]

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5 Comments

  1. G

    Great article, Mr. Compere. Nowadays, I doubt you would have become a general since the evangelists would have secretly made a pact that no one will become a general unless they were a fanatical Christain. Kind of like in the military where if you were not married, your career would come to a halt. I had an ex-Navy doctor tell me that.

    I agreed with you that in the city, you are more vulnerable to being subject to religious dogma if you are attending a religious school in a metropolitan area compare to an outlying area. Of course, you were lucky that your parents were not fanatic religious people who would put the fear of God in you.

  2. Darrell V Mc

    I grew up in a rather harsh evangelical atmosphere where you were sure to be headed for that lake of fire if you died with even one small sin unforgiven, such as failing to try to bring everyone around you into the fold. My siblings are thoroughly brainwashed still. Reading your excellent article makes me feel a great deal less conflicted about traveling my own different road. Now I have something I can hand to anyone who might take me to task for being who and what I am, and I thank you mightily for it.

  3. Joshua Rownd

    I find the general’s last comment interesting when he says that he is a “retired Christian.” A retired Christian was never a Christian to begin with in the first place.”

    Also the generals comments that there are no original texts of the bible, that is a bunch of Texas bolgona – http://coldcasechristianity.com/2016/when-it-comes-to-ancient-texts-the-more-copies-we-have-the-more-confidence-we-have/

  4. Connie

    Josh like those before
    Claims to know another’s soul
    “Not a TWUE Christian!”

    The retired general is correct Josh, and no, you can’t handle the truth. There are no original texts of the New Testament. This is a fact. Your link is opinion only. Not fact.

  5. G

    Well, since I am retired Christian where is my pension for all the faithful and loyal service to God and the church for all my youth and middle age years?

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