I am 24 years old...
I became a Christian during the early part of my junior year of high school after a close friend of mine, a neighbor, witnessed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to me incessantly over weeks spent playing basketball out in the street. Eventually, I let the jargon sink in, and decided I wanted to be a Christian. Big mistake.
After a year of being a babe in Christ, attending several different churches with everyone I knew who was a Bible thumper, I went on a seemingly innocent vacation with my father and sisters. When I arrived home a week later, I was bedridden with the flu. It was during this time that I conveniently read the chapter in Matthew about the unpardonable sin. I began questioning whether I'd committed this sin and done eternal, irreparable harm to myself. And thus began a nine-month tailspin of anxiety, sleepless nights, and unrelenting fear. I rarely found a moment of respite from this crippling dread, and, somehow, I was able to hide my inner turmoil from those around me. But I could only go on for so long.
Luckily, I moved to college during the ensuing fall, and through the beauty of new surroundings, fresh faces and the opportunity to finally forge my own path, I began to slightly drift away from my Christian faith. I still loosely followed the moral Christian codes that I'd adhered to over the last year (I didn't drink an ounce of alcohol, in fact, never have in my life, nor did I participate in any lewd and lascivious activities), but prayer and church going became non-existent. I finally regained my sanity and started living a normal life. I didn't blame Christianity for those fateful nine months, I just thought I had done my part as a Christian incorrectly, but a survival instinct helped me put my Christian beliefs on the back burner.
The good times would not last long enough. During the fall semester of my junior year, rumors began swirling that an avian flu epidemic was imminent, and like clockwork, my first though was about god and my eternal resting place should I be stricken with this disease and suffer death because of it. Without hesitation, I feared that I was destined to spend eternity in hell, so I prayed, hoping that my latest show of piety would put me back in god's good graces. Within the week, I sought out an on campus Christian Club, and as luck would have it, the leader of the organization was the son of a pastor at a local non-denominational church just a few miles from the campus.
Like a moth to the flame, I quickly became indoctrinated with their belief system, and soaked it in completely. I attended church weekly, without fail, participated in bible studies sometimes twice a week, and engaged in what was called an accountability group, whereby I and other Christians would recount our sinfulness to one and other, in a desperate measure to try and change our own human nature. Never seemed to work, but we all reveled in our sanctimonious practices. Needless to say, I was once again part of the system, and seemingly on my way to an eternity of ultimate joy and fellowship with my creator.
But the fears crept back in. Slowly at first, but eventually became as violent and tumultuous as they once were. My fears canvassed a wide range of issues. During the first few stages, the fear was mainly centered around my own belief that I was headed to hell for either not following god correctly, or because I was following the wrong god the entire time. But, that fear was always based on a contingency, a possibility, not a definite. My fate always hung in the balance, but it could be that one day I would be in heaven. The theology I had been taught (reformed Calvinism) confirmed that god had predestined many souls to be with him for all eternity, and my Christian brothers kept assuring me that I belonged to this select class of god's elect. Unfortunately, due to my intense study and insatiable thirst for knowledge, I was led to a far greater illustration of just how terrifying this "benevolent" god could be.
One day, while laying in bed, it hit me that according to my ideology and the overarching theology of most of Christendom, while it is possible for the individual to accept Christ and secure their place in heaven, the Scriptures all but ensure us that the vast majority of mankind will never experience the sweet repose of heaven, but would suffer forever, consciously and despondently in the wasteland of hell. No longer was it only fear that encompassed me, but a sort of nauseating emptiness in the most inner reaches of what I thought was my soul. I suddenly had the unenviable position of either rejecting god and accepting the terrible fate of hell pr resigning myself to a life worshiping a monster who would create millions of creatures, only to consign the vast majority to a fate that is literally unbelievable. That god could send billions of people to hell, and still demand worship was unthinkable, and it caused me more anguish than I've ever known. I had hit rock bottom.
I must point out that my thespian skills were still on full display, as I was able to feign normalcy once again for almost two years. Although I spent countless nights at bible studies and care-group meetings while deeply entrenched in these mental and psychological horrors, none of my church-mates were the wiser. It was actually quite amazing the things I did while giving nearly all of my mental acuity to rationalizing my fears and trying to convince myself that there was no way my preconceived notions of god's goodness could be that skewed; that the ultimate expression of good manifested itself by torturing feeble and fragile human beings throughout all eternity, all because his holiness, a measure to which fallible creatures could never innately live up to had been breached by our actions. No matter my attempts, I never found peace, and the maelstrem continually intensified.
Eventually, one thought began to nestle itself in alongside the constant theological debate going on in my head. The worst thought I'd ever thought, and the one thought everyone hopes will never enter their minds. I began contemplating suicide. I could not go on living like this anymore. Nothing temporal mattered to me anymore, and the vicissitudes of life seemed trivial. All I knew was the fear. The mind numbing, pulse-pounding dread that robbed me of my life for nearly three years. After about three weeks of these suicidal thoughts, I took action and began systematically detaching myself from the church (which, at the time, was basically the only life I knew; yes, I was that engrossed). All of my friends were Christians, and due to the alienation I had caused towards my family because of my holy lifestyle and damning "Good News Gospel" message, leaving these people would be to separate myself from everything and everyone. For as much as I detested their message and their god, I genuinely did, and to this day, do have an affection for them. But, for the sake of my sanity, and frankly, my life, I had to get out.
(My actual ex-filtration is a bit longer and convoluted than it appears here, but for the sake of some semblance of brevity, I'll get right to the point.)
Of course, the now ex-church-mates wouldn't let me go easily, and many of them spent the waning days of my "Christianity" pleading with me to come back, telling me that I was now a pawn of Satan and admitting that they were participating in church wide prayer meetings focused solely on my apostasy. Tears were shed and extremely long e-mails were sent (kind of like this testimonial...) from those expressing their dismay over my decision. In fact some believe so fervently in this doctrine of predestination, that they are fully expecting my eventual return to the faith. If they only knew....
It has been almost two years since my departure, and yet I still find myself consumed by this doctrine of hate and fear mongering. Although, I still have intermittent contact with those from the old church, I have found myself irreparably disconnecting myself from some of them, as I have been badgering their beliefs on open public forums in an effort to demean their belief system and maybe give them a window into the heartbreak that I've felt.
Although I no longer fear hell, nor do I fear for the fates of those around me, having had my worldview completely shattered twice over the past five years has left my psyche in shambles. I regularly slip in and out of depressed states, and have adopted an extremely cynical outlook on life, often times bordering on nihilism and stoicism. Given that I was a Christian during the formative days of my youth, and have since been a mental wreck, I've never been involved in a romantic relationship, and have only two people that I truly consider friends (one of them is as screwed up as I, although for wholly different reasons). My current personality and severe neuroses preclude me from pursuing such a relationship, whether intimate or friendly.
The suicidal thoughts have crept back in, not because of inexorable fear anymore, but because I feel that there is nothing to live for. I have a disdain for mankind now, for harboring this religion throughout our sociological evolution, and I am quickly becoming something of a misanthrope, which is diametrically opposed to my once affable and jolly nature. Oh, how long ago that was. Now, I am just bitter. My anger towards what religion has turned me into, and how it has ruined my life cannot be quelled, and every step I take in the right direction, several steps opposing it follow.
So, here I am, two years removed from the bonds of religious dogma, yet still trying to escape...