From "Born Again Christian", to Baptist Minister, to Atheist, to Deist in 65 Years
by Richard Conner
Every one of us is a product of our environment. We are shaped by our parents, our friends, and the country or section of the country in which we spend our formative years. I am no different. Born in southern California, my mother, my grandparents, and my uncle, who was seven years my senior, shaped me and placed me in a little box that was called “Christian” first and “Baptist” a close second.
Another influence on my religious life was a very fundamentalist group called “The Fisherman’s Club.” Consisting of males only, I attended weekly meetings from the age of fifteen, and participated in projects that involved the distribution of Christian literature and talking to people about “being born again.” When I see the little fish emblem on the back of cars, which is the emblem for mainstream, evangelical Christianity today, it reminds me of my experiences in that club - the motto taken from Jesus saying, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
It was quite evident that I had no chance to think anything different than what these influences had on my life. That is until I began thinking for myself. Then my life began to take a little turn. But it wasn’t going to come easy. There were still many obstacles to overcome. Deeply imbedded superstitions are hard to erase. There was a glimmer of hope, however, that came from another source. This turned out to be the single most important influence that led me into the light of Deism. I have always had some doubts about many of the teachings found in the Bible, even when I was attending theological school. Even when I was in the pulpit, much of what I was saying didn’t ring true. There were too many episodes and stories found in the scriptures appeared to be myths, superstitions, dogmas, doctrines that didn’t make sense. However I could not break away from those having the most influence on my life. My uncle, a missionary to China prior to the Communist takeover, was the most influential to my Christian beliefs. So, being a “committed Christian,” I felt “led by the Lord” to attend a Christian college. After two years in a secular school, El Camino College, in Lawndale, California, I enrolled in, and eventually graduated from one of the most religiously fundamentalist Christian schools in the country… BIOLA College. Well, maybe Bob Jones University could give it some competition. I was ordained as a “minister of the gospel” from the First Baptist Church in Torrance, CA in 1954. Still being confused about a lot of things, I began thinking somewhat on my own again (a dangerous habit, according to mainstream religion.) However, some of my very fundamentalist teachings planted by my relatives, the Fisherman’s Club and BIOLA College kept following me. Still feeling that the ministry was my calling, I accepted an offer to be the assistant director of a Christian youth center in east L.A.
Following ventures as a family counselor with the Salvation Army in Seattle, and Baptist minister, my life took another course. I decided I could no longer be true to myself if I remained in the ministry. I became program director of a YMCA in Culver City. The YMCA , now referred to as the “Y”, is probably more Deist than Christian. This was the beginning of a different path for me and led to a career I could be happy with. I became a certified Y director and had positions in California, Idaho and Washington over a period of 30 years. The more liberal attitude of the Y, with its emphasis on doing the right thing, and helping our fellow man, gave me more to think about and a chance to move away from conservative Christianity. Especially was this true in the camping program, where we had activities to teach good principles to the campers that were in our care. And though we often referred to the teachings in the Bible and spoke of Jesus and God in the same breath, emphasizing life’s principles were more important than dwelling on the merits of salvation, the hope of heaven and the fear of a fiery hell. The challenges we offered to the campers in accepting and developing better principles in their lives were through simple ceremonies each year, called the “Raggers Society.” These ceremonies took campers through many steps of growth, and were very Deistic in nature.
As I look back now, it is remarkably clear to me that it was definitely the Y chapters in my life that led me into the light of Deism. How did I not see this before! For a long while, thinking that if I could just be an Atheist or Agnostic, believe in the teachings that led me to a better life, I could be happy with that. This was not satisfactory to me. There must be another answer, my reason said. The overwhelming evidence that there is a God, defied my thinking otherwise. Previously, it never dawned on me that there was an alternative to being a Christian or Atheist/Agnostic. Thank God I found that alternative. It is true that false influences can easily affect one’s life. The good news is, that if you use God given reason, which is available to all, those influences can be overcome. Now I gladly consider myself to be a Deist, (finally free) believing that there is one true God who created a perfectly designed world, that can readily be seen each day, and which validates His eternal existence. The fallacies of the revealed religions, (including Christian) which have so long kept me on the dark path of superstition, not allowing me to see the god-given road of reason, are gone forever from my life. No longer do I have to carry the weight of apologizing for the myths, contradictions and distortions of the character of God as revealed in the Bible. Feeling more alive, free and content than ever before, there is absolute contentment in my life. Thank God for what I have found in Deism.