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11/18/09                                                                                       View Comments

Keeping the Faith

by Janus Grayden

For most of us who left religion, the schism wasn't a swift knife stroke but a slow, and oftentimes painful, process. This is especially true for those whose entire lives were completely entangled with their faith.

If you've ever had the misfortune of crossing paths with a prickly pear cactus, you know that the large, obvious spines are the least of your worries. It's always the minuscule, nearly invisible barbs that drive you insane, poking you even after you were absolutely certain that you had plucked them all out. With no malice intended, this was my deconversion experience.

When all of your friends, mentors, and close family are deeply religious, there is always more to religion than Sunday morning. The church I attended stressed an active involvement in almost daily activities. Without exaggeration, my life was completely involved in Christianity. So, when depression took a stranglehold on my life and, for years, no amount of prayer or any piece of advice slowed my downward spiral, questioning naturally followed.

However, as completely wrapped up in Christianity as I was, the existence of God and the fallibility of the majority of my faith was not up for dispute, in my mind. Instead, life took a much darker approach. God was sadistic and cruel, demanding that I pay a penance for being human in order to be worth His love. In short, a literal, well-versed knowledge of the Bible, unyielding adherence to faith and rampant depression led me to Maltheism.

If the idea that an omnipotent and omniscient being demands your suffering for appeasement sounds horrifying and utterly unhealthy, then you can appreciate what little favors faith did for me. I couldn't understand the passages about how God was supposed to be loving and kind while, at the same time, condemning almost everyone who ever has and ever will exist to eternal torment. The fact that it all seemed like the whims of a malevolent deity only served to drive me deeper into my ennui and sense of helplessness.

Therefore, when enough had finally become enough and I stopped praying and started working towards my own stability, things slowly began to improve. In the face of what I had been fed as a kid, life as an atheist didn't gravitate towards nihilism and hopelessness. I had been through that already and it was faith that held me prisoner. Truly, it was the large, obvious thorn that had wounded me.

Little bit by little bit, I sloughed off my faith and regained my sense of self-empowerment and capability. Of course, it's the small barbs that are the most persistent. Losing my faith was relatively easy. Coming to learn that faith is a wonderful thing took time and there were a great deal of obstacles.

Losing that kind of trust all at once shattered my ability to deal with people. Luckily, I was able to make friends who were patient with me as I came to know that faith isn't a monopoly held by religion. Losing my faith in a construct designed to hold me captive by my guilt and fears led me to have a renewed faith in myself and in the people I'm fortunate to be close to. Instead of centering my life around God and obediently believing that everything will fall into place around that faith, I've put my trust into being happy with the short time I'm lucky enough to have on this rock hurtling through space.