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Mattheis goes from serving as Lutheran minister to an atheist

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POSTED May 27, 2014 1:07 a.m.

AmyJo Mattheis isn’t your run-of-the-mill atheist. 

As if there were such a thing. 

Mattheis spoke Wednesday during the gathering of the Stockton Atheists and Freethinkers in the McFall Room at the Manteca Library.

But unlike somebody who spent a large block of their adult lives questioning the existence of the divine, Mattheis built hers around it – spending a decade as an ordained member of the clergy that stuck close to her Lutheran roots. 

Because it was church that put her closer to her father – a Lutheran minister – who spent most of the week away from home. And it was church that gave her a sense of social structure and community. And it was church that served as the centerpiece – the keystone – of her very existence. 

And then one day it wasn’t. It came gradually, and a lot of it had to do with the way that she was treated as a female member of the cloth. But, as she disclosed to a joint meeting of the Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers and the Stanislaus Humanists at the Manteca Public Library Wednesday night, the end result was clear – she no longer believed in the existence of God. 

She was suddenly free. 

That’s not to say that Mattheis was without worry. Finding employment, she said, is difficult when you decide to leave a job as a pastor because “half of the people are mad at you because you left and the other half are mad because it’s what you did in the first place.”

She found herself wrangling with breaking free from a system that had been a major part of her life since birth – a cradle Lutheran that literally went from her cradle to the church to get baptized. And the hardest part for many people, she said, when they start to shed their religion is the fact that it’s something that they identified with for so long. 

For one thing there are concepts that are often presented by people in positions of love and trust – parents and the church – and they’re often drilled in for years and even decades. Undoing all of that, she said can take time. 

Cracking the culture can be a different thing entirely. A recent poll indicated that eight out of ten Americans believe in God, and one-third of the world adheres to some sort of a Christian faith. To think that the world, and especially American culture, isn’t influenced by people who make decisions based on their own belief system, she said, is a fool’s errand. 

Now a visiting lecturer at the University of the Pacific, Mattheis outlined, point-by-point, the ways that religion plays a role in the lives of those who choose to adhere to it – giving worth, defining one’s purpose, fixing a perpetual sense of badness, managing fear, creating a sense of calm and presenting tests and trials to clear. 

She penned her entire story in a book, “Religion Made Me Fat,” and blogs on her website

For the third time in as many meetings, a coalition of Christian residents held a communal session in Library Park just prior to the meeting inside of the McFall Room. Initially organized by Christian Worship Center Pastor Steve Parea and A Place of Refuge Pastor Mike Dillman, the gatherings have been mostly peaceful, save for some tension during the first time the two groups gathered in the same place.

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