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February 10th, 2014
06:13 PM ET

Deaf pastor signs a mighty surprising message

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Baptist • Belief • Christianity • Journeys • Lost faith • Opinion

soundoff (574 Responses)
  1. Doc Vestibule

    Once someone is able to abandon the idea of posthumous rewards and punishments, they finally capable of doing good for goodness' sake – humanitarianism for humanity, not God.
    I've said it many times: belief in the supernatural is not required to live a life of compassion, humility, charity and forgiveness.
    I am confident that this fellow will find a sizeable community of others who believe in the Christian ethic and not the supersti/tion.

    February 11, 2014 at 8:22 am |
  2. realityyyyyyy

    From the ex-pastor:

    "I understood that God is an ancient but powerful superst-ition."

    February 11, 2014 at 7:09 am |
  3. ausphor

    I encourage all believers in the ancient religions to do as Justin has and look at your myths in an air of reality. The supernatural exists only in the man made tomes, magic should not be a reason for belief.
    PS: I hope this new format works and the destructive trolls can be kept in check. New handle, aus for Austin and phor for Tophor in memoriam perhaps!

    February 11, 2014 at 6:34 am |
  4. bootyfunk

    good for you, Justin. most atheists were religious at one time. welcome to reality.

    February 11, 2014 at 5:25 am |
    • saggyroy

      That's what you get for studying the bible. I think I would like to form an atheist bible study group.

      February 11, 2014 at 5:32 am |
  5. ilahb123

    1 John 5:13 .. If you have doubt, you were NEVER saved in the first place, perhaps. I can understand you were burnt out and treated unkind and now angry. But do not be angry at God. He didn't do anything to you.

    I believe that you still have a love and faith for God ... You will know it too, I just know you will! Right now the Bible says that many will believe a lie like it is the truth ... as far as all your questions, what does it matter? Christ came, died, rose, and is coming back .. that's it... Simple ..

    February 11, 2014 at 2:56 am |
    • bootyfunk

      "But do not be angry at God. He didn't do anything to you. "

      aside from hold us accountable for the sins of distant ancestors? the christian god is unjust to blame the son for the sins of the father. and what was adam and eve's big sin? they didn't want to be slaves to a megalomaniac deity?

      god drowned babies in his great flood, ergo god is a baby-killer. he killed babies when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah too. he murdered the first born sons in egypt as well. your god had proven over and over that he is unworthy of human worship.

      you don't need god to be a good person.

      February 11, 2014 at 5:16 am |
      • joey3467

        He even had to harden the Pharaoh's heart just to ensure that he would get to kill all of them.

        February 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm |
    • saggyroy

      We get 2 for 1 here. The old "atheist angry at god" and "never a believer in the first place". Always an out or an excuse with you guys apologizing for your god.

      February 11, 2014 at 5:30 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      It is amazing that simple man fails to comprehend why scripture says the things it does. If it taught that questioning your beliefs would not doom you, no-one would believe. The men who wrote the bible used certain fear tactics while doing so to keep people believing.
      I wish this man nothing but the best on his journey to truly being free. I'm sincerely hoping that he doesn't cave under the pressure from believers and return to something that makes no sense or has much place in the real world. He's embarked on an enlightening journey that will give him much peace and happiness without fear of being tortured eternally for not believing or not following the bible. He will now be able to put the proper focus on life and make the best of the only life any of us know of...no afterlife means placing more value on this one.

      February 11, 2014 at 5:50 am |
    • Pete

      "Christ came, died, rose, and is coming back .. that's it... Simple .."

      The world's largest research center has stated that "the stories in the Bible remain a part of folk traditions and were included in the Bible to illustrate and explain theological ideas. The Bible is primarily a book of religion, a guide to faith. it was not a book of history, poetry, economics, or science. It contains all sorts of literary genre, which are used to teach about the relationship between God and mankind.In the best analysis, the Bible is a religious book, not an historical docu.ment.

      February 11, 2014 at 7:51 am |
      • ausphor

        Pete, so you believe in magic. Ever seen any of the supernatural events described in any religious tome replicated? Ever had any communications from the dead, their spirits, whether from heaven or hell? Did your parents indoctrinate you into the faith as a child? Would your friends and family ostracize you if you left the faith, is that why you believe, for the comfort factor? Jesus may have existed as a historical figure but if you believe he had a bad weekend to save you from sin, well.....

        February 11, 2014 at 8:06 am |
        • Pete

          Wow you really need to work on your reading comprehension dude.

          February 11, 2014 at 8:13 am |
        • Pete

          I would never believe in anything that is full of folklore.

          February 11, 2014 at 8:14 am |
        • ausphor

          Pete
          I asked the questions because what you wrote in your post could have applied to any religious book, such a general comment that did not state much of your beliefs. I think everyone already knew that the bible was a religious text not a historical one, thanks for pointing that out, rather obvious.

          February 11, 2014 at 8:31 am |
  6. omegaman88

    I applaud him for finally breaking free of the brainwashing he received from what was probably a loving and caring family, a pattern repeated millions of time over every day in this country. But his first boss seems like just the sort of hypocrite that makes me HATE organized religion, arrogant autocrats who wield the word of (a) (G/g)od like they are one themselves.

    How much different are many Christians from Muslim? There is an absolute belief that they are right and their job is to convert the non-believers. In fact, rather than trying to expand their minds, so many of the believers seem to focus in on their beliefs without trying to expand their knowledge base.

    Frankly, I have never heard the calling. I find most believers think one can only be a good person if tney believe in (a) (G/g)od. Sorry, but you are just plain wrong. After 47 years on this earth, I have found precious little to prove to me that there is some force greater than gravity in directing my life and affairs. Many churches create a sense of awe due to their immense grandeur and opulence which is more than balanced off by the death and destruction caused by the Spanish Inquisition, the burning of "witches" at the stake in Salem, the Orange Marches in Ulster, the strife in the Middle East and jihadists of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, etc. It just seems that religion creates so much more wars, strife and intolerance that it does in caring and understanding. In many of our daily jobs, our routine are guided by rules and principles reinforced by years of success, not hope and faith.

    I'm willing to turn the other cheek and allow you to believe what you will. Just don't try to prosthelytize me with your beliefs and fantasies. As I see it, I don't know how anyone who believes in (a) (G/g)od can look down their noses at anyone who has any beliefs whatsoever including dragons, fairies or unicorns. If you read your own Bible with an open mind, you will probably find a whole lot more than you are willing to accept.

    February 11, 2014 at 2:01 am |
  7. tallulah131

    I have great admiration for those who actually learn about what they believe, whether it leads them to keep or lose that belief. I wish this man well in his future endeavors.

    February 11, 2014 at 1:55 am |
  8. Dyslexic doG

    Why doesn't your god appear to the world and put an end to any doubt? Justin would return to the fold, and I would join him.

    Your god seems to be narcissistic enough and vain enough and insecure enough to want all the adoration and all the worship of every person in the world. Your book which you keep bleating is the "word of god", certainly sees god commanding you endlessly to adore him and worship him and bow before him and idolize him and praise him. "Oh love me, love me, tell me how wonderful I am!"

    It would be effortless for your god to show himself, like he seemed to do pretty regularly back in the bronze age, and he wouldn't have to send so many people either born in the wrong place or people trusting logic and science over blind faith, to eternal fire and pain and torment. Surely, if he is the loving god that you claim, he would be anxious to save all these people rather than damn them?

    I am shaking my head as I write this, in amazement at the pure infantile foolishness that enables christians to believe in something so laughably false. It's amazing. Simply amazing.

    February 11, 2014 at 1:33 am |
  9. Dyslexic doG

    Christianity is like any other cult. You dare leave and the cult members will hound you and threaten you and ostracize you.

    Listen to Justin Vollmar's account of the threats he receives, and read the venom in these comments by Christians.

    Stop claiming to be a religion of love, you frauds! FRAUDS!!!

    February 11, 2014 at 1:26 am |
    • dandintac

      Yes, my wife became the subject of bully tactics when she started dating me, a non-Mormon and non-believer back in the 90s. They would make nightly intimidation raids–the bishops, knocking on her door, and treated her like a child and like they were her parents. They wound up ex-communicating her, but then went after her kids. I don't even know how they knew I didn't believe, since I hadn't told anyone. They have a way of finding out things. After we moved, they somehow found out our address and came after the kids there too.

      A woman I knew in college at the time used to be a Mormon. She lived in a small town nearby. She used to be a member of the church, until one day she got a summons to the Church Court for "immoral acts". She tried calling them, but they refused to discuss it with her. So she refused to go and they excommunicated her. Turns out their mail carrier was Mormon, and noticed that her mail had a different name on it from the mail addressed to a man's name at the same address. The mail carrier assumed she was living in sin, when she actually just kept her maiden name for professional reasons, and the mail carrier turned her in to the church authorities. She didn't get married through the church though–so it may not have mattered.

      Here's an example of the bullying used against those who don't conform:
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTRDRP2n4Sk&w=640&h=360]

      February 11, 2014 at 1:57 am |
      • TruthPrevails1

        This is from a couple of years ago but it is one more piece that shows the bullying that is sometimes involved in the name of the christian god.
        "Michigan Republicans protect religious bullies – place LGBT kids in danger"
        http://www.examiner.com/article/michigan-republicans-protect-religious-bullies-place-lgbt-kids-danger

        February 11, 2014 at 7:47 am |
      • The Running Twit

        Unfortunately, bullies are all over the place!

        February 11, 2014 at 9:23 am |
  10. dandintac

    I'm glad to see former pastors, ministers, priests, etc. come out as atheists. I am convinced there are many, many more who are "in the closet". I can't imagine the living hell they must be going through. They may love their job in terms of the human interaction, presiding over weddings, trying to help people out and advise them and comfort them, but they must absolutely hate living the lie, and rambling from a book they no longer believe to be true, and stand up in front of a huge group of people pretending to believe.

    I think it's a luxury for ordinary believers in a way, because they CAN compartmentalize it, and just believe what the priest says–they've been doing it most of them, since they were tiny children. But a priest has to confront has to confront the absurdity of the whole thing head-on, and do so all the time, as a full-time job, and repeat the lies over and over again. They must be in a position to examine it all more carefully, and do a great deal more thinking about it. For this reason, I'm willing to bet there are many, many more closet atheists behind the pulpit.

    And then to come out! Try to imagine it from their eyes. Right off the bat, a loss of livelihood. How do you pay the bills and keep a roof over your head and your family's heads? How do you support the family? Coming out to friends and family–being disowned, shunned, losing friends, people that you love–but their love for you turns to hate, and they won't speak to you or look you in the eye. The possible loss of your actual family–your wife leaving and taking the kids. Parents and siblings disowning you. Your whole world crushed before your eyes.

    I can easily see how some simply can't do it. So they go on living the lie, trying to lie to themselves: "I believe I believe I believe," when really in their hearts they know they don't. Lying to people behind the pulpit–people you care about. People who trust you. Going home to the wife and family, and continuing the lie, and leading them in prayer around the dinner table. I can imagine them muttering to themselves under their breath–"I believe I believe I believe".

    February 11, 2014 at 12:23 am |
    • ddeevviinn

      Well, looks like we are both glad. I'm glad for the countless number of individuals throughout history who have abandoned the charade of atheism and turned to the true and living God.

      February 11, 2014 at 12:31 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        countless? try using your fingers.

        February 11, 2014 at 1:35 am |
      • dandintac

        devin,

        Fortunately, the tide may be turning. The Internet is providing a safe place where we can't simply be shouted down or sanctioned or punished for our non-belief. Christianity lost its best argument when they were no longer allowed to burn people for daring to not believe and make that fact known. The number of non-believers is growing every year. I intend to continue speaking out in forums like this to encourage this trend.

        February 11, 2014 at 1:41 am |
        • ddeevviinn

          Not sure what kind of circles you hang out in. I will tell you this: With a significant degree of certainty, I can assure you that none of those within my circle of christian family and friends have shouted down, sanctioned, punished or burned anyone for their unbelief. I think you would find them, for the most part, to be kind and considerate individuals, even to those of unbelief.

          February 11, 2014 at 2:17 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          Yet devin, you still believe that no matter what good we do we are still doomed to eternal punishment for simply having the courage to question. Yet the rapist or murderer or pedophile who repents will be given this place in heaven. It's a ludicrous belief system based on fear factors.

          February 11, 2014 at 6:04 am |
  11. dandintac

    Justin,

    Not sure if you are following the comments, but if so, I have a couple of questions for you.

    How many threats have you received? Death threats? And threats of Hell? Also, how many "friends" and family members have disowned or shunned you as a result?

    February 11, 2014 at 12:11 am |
    • justindvollmar

      My family fully support me. No death threats yet. But many negative Christians comments.

      February 11, 2014 at 9:29 am |
  12. Apple Bush

    "...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."

    Duh.

    February 10, 2014 at 11:38 pm |
  13. ddeevviinn

    " I came out as an atheist last Friday because I wanted to give christians a chance to break free from their traditions and su per st itions."
    Justin, your philanthropy is awe inspiring, but I can a s s ure you that many of us embrace our faith because, ultimately, it is the most rational, logical, and intellectually satisfying world view available. And while we fully respect your right to explore your own philosophical forays, we would appreciate it if you would abstain from projecting your personal conclusions on the rest of us.

    February 10, 2014 at 11:21 pm |
    • dandintac

      "...we would appreciate it if you would abstain from projecting your personal conclusions on the rest of us."

      Well, this former Christian shares his personal conclusions and am happy that he's "voicing" them. Or, let me guess–you really just wish he would shut up and go away! Right?

      February 11, 2014 at 12:08 am |
      • ddeevviinn

        Obviously, you would not be included in " the rest of us."

        February 11, 2014 at 12:20 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          So he should just shut up and go away?? Have at his new found disbelief in quiet???
          How about christians do the same? Shut up about abortion; shut up about gay rights; shut up about what is taught in publicly funded schools (where children of none-belief and other beliefs attend); shut up about contraception use.
          That respect you demand goes both ways.
          I think this man is wise to speak out and has every right to. I think you'd be amazed at how many non-believers sit in those pew every week just because the consequences of admitting disbelief can be dire. Partially what we're seeing is the decline of christianity and I'm not certain there can be a negative to that.

          February 11, 2014 at 8:03 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        he means "on the rest of us delusional folk"

        February 11, 2014 at 1:29 am |
    • tallulah131

      Ah you poor thing. Are you afraid that you'll lose your faith if this man practices his freedom of speech?

      February 11, 2014 at 1:56 am |
      • ddeevviinn

        Not at all, perhaps you should actually read what I wrote.

        February 11, 2014 at 2:01 am |
        • tallulah131

          Mea culpa. I misread your comment. I apologize.

          February 11, 2014 at 2:22 am |
        • ddeevviinn

          No apology needed. Something I've done myself on more than one occasion.

          February 11, 2014 at 2:34 am |
    • bootyfunk

      "many of us embrace our faith because, ultimately, it is the most rational, logical, and intellectually satisfying world view available. "

      funniest post on this blog. LOL!

      February 11, 2014 at 5:18 am |
    • Pete

      "the most rational, logical, and intellectually satisfying world view available"

      So even though the world's largest research center has stated this about the bible. "The stories remain a part of folk traditions and were included in the Bible to illustrate and explain theological ideas such as: Where did humans come from. The Bible is primarily a book of religion, a guide to faith. it was not a book of history, poetry, economics, or science. It contains all sorts of literary genre, which are used to teach about the relationship between God and mankind. Even biblical history is edited history: events were chosen to illustrate the central theme of the Bible. The Biblical writers did not pretend they were giving a complete history. It is therefore not possible to try to "prove" the Bible by means of checking its historical or scientific accuracy. The only "proof" to which it can be subjected is this: Does it correctly portray the God-human relationship? In the best analysis, the Bible is a religious book, not an historical docu.ment."

      Sorry it's not rational to believe in a book that contains folklore and is not a real history book. LOL!

      February 11, 2014 at 8:05 am |
  14. ddeevviinn

    test

    February 10, 2014 at 11:16 pm |
  15. jackbow7

    I hold a Bachelor of Arts in theology, a Master of Divinity with a concentration in philosophy of religion and a Master of Theology with a concentration in systematic theology focusing specifically on Christology. Belief has nothing to do with any academic degree one earns as faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. Anselm of Canterbury noted that faith must seek understanding, not the other way around.

    February 10, 2014 at 11:07 pm |
    • ddeevviinn

      Which is why the gospel can and does transform the lives of both the most rudimentary of minds and the most intellectually astute.

      February 10, 2014 at 11:37 pm |
      • Pete

        No it doesn't. Only 33% of the people on this planet believe in your religion and that number has stayed stagnant for centuries. It's why Christians have to go to third world countries to try and sell this religion to others.

        February 11, 2014 at 8:07 am |
      • igaftr

        dev
        "Which is why the gospel can and does transform the lives of both the most rudimentary of minds and the most intellectually astute"

        False. It is not the god spell that does that. You could subst!tute ANY other religious text, or peice of fiction. If I brainwash you, indoctrinate you and teach you it is real, and you are convinced as every religious person in the world has been, it does not matter what the subject of the text is.

        It is not the god spell that transforms anyone...it is the psychology of belief.

        February 11, 2014 at 8:44 am |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        "Belief has nothing to do with any academic degree one earns"

        Who said it did?

        If anything there is correlation between increased education and increased disbelief.

        February 11, 2014 at 1:43 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      you can get all of those qualifications from the back of a Christian cereal box.

      All you've done is take years to do one loooooong book report.

      February 11, 2014 at 1:14 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Faith most often seems to seek rationalizations, not understanding.
      Those who hold fast to the supernatural clamor for anything they can construe as proof of their unprovable worldview.
      Religious faith is the willing suspension of critical analysis in order to accept dogmatic supersti/tion as "Truth".

      February 11, 2014 at 8:27 am |
  16. cdphanstudio

    Reblogged this on My PhotoBlog and commented:
    I'm not Christian but I don't believe in God, although. I only believe in "universe" or "zen meditation." However, I still praying to my decease families and everything except in God.

    February 10, 2014 at 10:58 pm |
  17. kmcglott

    You spoke about religion continually through your piece. However you never spoke about spirituality. Where is your faith? Where is your love of Jesus? You understand why people have to go to hell you understand what they need to do to avoid it. I love you brother and will pray for you however I do not believe it is wise to continue your blogs as it is blatant heresy.

    February 10, 2014 at 10:51 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      such an infantile, fairy tale explanation of the world. it would be laughable if it wasn't so pitiful.

      You ask where his love of jesus is? Where is your love of Harry Potter? Where is your love of the Easter Bunny?

      February 11, 2014 at 1:17 am |
    • tallulah131

      It's like you didn't read the article, kmc. This man learned enough about his former religion to realize that he had no honest reason to believe the stories christianity passes as truth. You might as well be angry at him for not believing in Superman.

      February 11, 2014 at 1:59 am |
    • justindvollmar

      Good news! There is no hell.

      February 11, 2014 at 9:31 am |
    • doobzz

      You sound like a 20 year old girl explaining her philosophy of life. "I'm not religious, but I am spiritual."

      Translation: I don't like to think much, and I don't want to seem uncool by being a religious tight ass.

      February 11, 2014 at 1:47 pm |
  18. littlemorlock

    Justin, you are an inspiration to many of us in the deaf community, many thanks to you! Love you!

    February 10, 2014 at 9:52 pm |
  19. rougegeologist

    Sometimes I ready wife's Cosmo. Suposedly it tells women how to gain favor with men. Sometimes I wonder, if there is a God, is He laughing at us the same way when He reads what we wrote about gaining favor with Him.

    February 10, 2014 at 9:44 pm |
  20. jeeebusss

    That's Christians for you. If you decide you aren't part of their camp anymore they show you their love through overwhelming venomous hate. Is anyone anywhere surprised?

    February 10, 2014 at 9:25 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      I'm disgusted. They preach "love" but they are frauds!

      February 11, 2014 at 1:18 am |
    • doobzz

      Nope. Been there.

      February 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.