Looking back at it, I guess I was about 12 when I went to bible camp. My Great Aunt Dorothy figured it would be a good place to send her Great Nephew for a week. Up to this point, I had gone to church with her most Sundays, but only for Sunday School. She attended a non-denominational missionary church a few miles from her home. I had always enjoyed the stories we covered in Sunday School but never gave them too much credence.
I remember only three things about bible camp. The first thing is how everyone looked at me for wearing shorts to church. (It was summer and I was a fat kid.) I actually had one of the counselors request that I leave the service and put some slacks on. (I didn't have any slacks.) I remember thinking, "Why does God care if I'm wearing slacks, or shorts, or anything at all?"
The second thing that struck me was that first sermon. The youth pastor was very charismatic and told some of those same stories that I was familiar with in a way I wasn't quite used to. While he spoke, people started talking in a language I hadn't heard before and kind of jerked and rolled their eyes. I was shocked that the pastor was praising God when this person was clearly having a seizure. It wasn't until later that someone explained that they were talking in tongues.
The Third and worst thing that I remember was on the last day of bible camp. The youth pastor called on everyone who hadn't been baptized and accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to come on down to the front. I remember sitting there, clearly not wanting to go, with dozens of people staring at me. The pastor called me by name to come meet Jesus. The peer pressure in that church was too great and I went before the congregation and was "saved." The truth is, I felt like a lamb being brought to sacrifice. I left camp with a very bad taste in my mouth. But most importantly, it planted the seed of doubt about all of the silly little things that get indoctrinated into person who attends a house of revealed religious worship.
When I returned home, I didn't talk about camp much and I don't honestly think my Aunt knowingly sent me to that kind of bible camp. I never asked her but I think she wanted me to meet new church going friends not get pressured into anything. I resumed going to church with my aunt but from that point on, I looked at everything with a critical eye. Then I started questioning the Sunday School teacher in front of other students. They don't like that.
I asked questions like: What about the dinosaurs? How did all of us come from two people? Why would God kill people if he supposedly loves everyone? Why don't we have angels visit people today? How can someone die and come back to life or have a virgin birth? How does killing Gods only son save your soul, but only if you believe it to be true? If God is so great, why does he need to bully people into believing in him? Why can't I just believe in God if God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are all the same entity? Why would God use a game of "Telephone" to spread his message? The questions kept coming and their answers to these questions were usually less than satisfactory. They would say: you need faith, God works in mysterious ways, or my personal favorite, don't worry about it, just believe.
It wasn't long after that when I stopped asking questions, stopped going to church, and stopped believing. Like many people, I figured that a lack of religion meant that I was an Atheist not realizing that God and religion are not one in the same. I hit Atheism full bore. "There is no God, you &^$^$%@" I would blast at anyone (except my aunt) who tried to talk with me about religion.
Fast forward to around the time of 9/11. I was in North Jersey on that day and saw the destruction from over the river. It made me take stock of my life, both physical and spiritual. I started to ask more questions, this time to myself. What is life all about? Why are we here? Why do I feel like I have lived before? Is there a God? Can you believe in God but have no religion? The magic of Google gave me the answer.