February 10th, 2014
06:13 PM ET
Opinion by Justin Vollmar, special to CNN
(CNN) – When I was 18, I was drawn to a strict Christian sect known as Independent Fundamental Baptists. They convinced me that they were the only true church and I became a born-again, washed-in-blood Christian.
I left Gallaudet University, the nation’s premier school for deaf students, to enroll at Capital Baptist Deaf College, where I graduated with an unaccredited bachelor's degree in pastoral studies.
For the next seven years, I was a pastor in Silver Spring, Maryland, working 60 hours a week for little pay. My senior pastor was a harsh taskmaster, scolding me and always pushing me to work harder. Meanwhile, he earned $80,000 a year and played golf two times a week. I lived in poverty and did not see my children much. I got burned out.
I resigned my position and was shunned by the church. My faith in God was severely shaken. I started to have doubts about the Bible’s claims. I questioned whether God’s love, which is supposed to reside inside Christians, was real.
Still, I didn’t quit the church.
Rather, for two years I became a pastor at a church that is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. I called myself a “contemporary Baptist,” in the vein of megachurch pastor Rick Warren's “purpose-driven church.”
But that pit-of-the-stomach worry stayed, as I wondered whether I would leave the church and go through another shunning.
During that time, I established an online preaching ministry, Virtual Deaf Church, for deaf people like myself. I had a fairly sizable audience - averaging 3,000 viewers for each video or vlog - about the same as a good-sized flesh-and-blood congregation.
But I still had lots of spiritual questions and studied shelves of theological books in search of answers. I struggled with many more contradictions I continued to discover.
For example, how could dozens of Christian denominations fight and call each other false churches? Why are there thousands of conflicting interpretations among Christians? How could God be so loving when he will send millions to hell?
I moved toward ecumenism and tried to promote unity among churches. Nevertheless, my doubts still churned in my heart.
One day in 2011, while I was preaching at my former church in College Park, Maryland, I had a surreal moment and doubts completely seized my heart. I decided I could no longer be a pastor.
I resigned from my church and moved away to another state, and I have been living a life of ex-preacher for the last two years.
But I still did the vlogs, still preaching, in a way, about the very religion I was starting to walk away from.
I enrolled into Liberty University’s seminary, aspiring to be a scholar and hoping to get a doctorate in church history. I graduated with a master’s of arts in theology in December.
But, to my complete shock, I found that my doubts led me into atheism. As part of my study at Liberty, I was exposed to many criticisms against belief in God. After studying theology and philosophy, I realized the Bible was not the word of God. Supernatural miracles did not happen. Jesus Christ was a mythical figure who did not rise from the dead.
My faith completely collapsed, but a clarification settled in my heart.
I understood that God is an ancient but powerful superstition. I signed up for Clergy Project, where I found fellow ministers who doubted the existence of God. They helped me deal with emotions I felt and helped me set new goals for my life.
After months in secrecy, I came out as an atheist last Friday because I want to give Christians a chance to break free from their traditions and superstitions.
The reaction so far has been explosive. Christians were devastated and skeptics were delighted.
I've received hundreds of negative comments and e-mails from Christians and hundreds of positive comments and e-mails from the skeptics.
For now, I will continue doing vlogs, only now from a skeptical viewpoint.
Justin Vollmar is the founder of Virtual Deaf Church. The views expressed in this column belong to Vollmar.
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