My religious life began in a Southern Baptist Church in Erwin, TN, a small town of five-thousand or so. My family left this church and began attending a Presbyterian Church when I was twelve years old when my brother and I came home after church to inform my parents that all Catholics were bound for hell.
I became very involved in spiritual activity during the time of the “Jesus Movement.” From there I went to Asbury College in Wilmore, KY and acquired a degree in Religion and then went on to Asbury Theological Seminary. I decided not to follow the typical course into pastoral ministry and opted for a specialized curriculum in historical theology. My focus was on Eastern Orthodox history and theology.
By this time I had become Methodist but was clearly on a quest for “truth” never thinking, at the time, that it could be outside of religion. I attended the University of Kentucky to work on a masters in medieval history but left this after I got married in favor of a masters in clinical psychology at East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN. By this time I had joined the Episcopal Church in order to be as Orthodox as I could without actually joining up.
My thoughts about atheism began at this time. After sharing this with my shocked wife I agreed to make one more attempt. I began re-exploring historic Christianity and decided to unite with the oldest of cohesive Christian traditions, the Antiochian Orthodox Church. This “last chance” developed into a request some years later to be considered for ordination to Holy Orders as a Deacon. I was accepted, ordained in Boston, Massachusetts, and began to serve the fledgling mission community I helped begin some years ago in Johnson City, TN.
I gave this everything I had adopting the lifestyle and spiritual practices of this historic confession but after about seven years or so the stress of doing this took a toll on my health. Many of the ideas and practices I adopted were coming into question and the pressure of upholding things I found untenable was becoming impossible. I asked for a six month sabbatical, asked for an extension after that, and then decided not to return. We moved to Knoxville, TN to escape what was a toxic situation for us.
My search for truth and well being took me into the realm of neuropsychology and I quickly discovered that the peace I was looking for was actually being inhibited by believing and practicing things that ran counter to science; that purely secular, neuropsychological practices could produce the very things I once believed were the sole province of the Divine. I also began to study the “Perennial Philosophy” and discovered that the same or similar results of emotional stability, peace, and compassion were found in contemplatives from all of the religious traditions which have a strong contemplative tradition. The cat was now out of the exclusivist, supernatural paper sack and would never go back in.
Soon it became very clear that the ideas of the supernatural including the existence of God were unnecessary, untenable, and counter-productive. It also became clear that what I was searching for was attainable outside of the ideas of theism. So now I am practicing as a secular humanist psychotherapist for twenty-nine years total. And as a former clergyman and theist, I am very grateful for the presence of The Clergy Project.