sent in by Ian Lowe
I had an unhappy start to my high school years being badly bullied as a youngster: I was intelligent and read a lot in an environment where playing football (soccer) was pretty much the only skill that was recognised.
My mother was suffering her own crisis of faith within the methodist church, and despite my father's protests took my sister and I to the local Baptist Church's sunday school. Within this environment, I suddenly found my intelligence and ability to memorise large sections of the bible being rewarded: I was encouraged and found a little refuge from the beatings in school.
As with most ex christians that I have spoken to, there's a certain disbelief, an almost out of body experience of looking back at my own actions now: I can't see why I was taken in, why I so completely fell for the God-myth. The fact is, fall I did: and hard. I found myself studying the bible to the detriment of my academic studies.
At the age of sixteen I went to University, and simultaneously became much more active in christianity: I could see that many of the baptists in my church were weak, and only attended the church as a social thing. In my bible-fuelled head, if they were not 110% for christ, then they were only playing games.
That's the sort of environment where extremism can breed easily, and I fell under the sway firstly of Calvary Fellowship, a really isolationist group that started the whole "burn your books" "destroy satanic music" thing: I fell for it completely, and in time drifted on from this to the even more hardcore "church of christ".
At the time, the whole thing of the church dictating who you would socialise with, how you would spend your time etc seemed not only normal, but the only way things should be. The thing that tempered this, I think, was the misguided idea that I could minister to my friends in University. I was unwilling to walk away from my studies, because I believed that I was called to help save my fellow students.
After I left university and began work, I found myself with less time to study, and spent a lot of time travelling, and thinking. I started to form around the opinion that the more extreme churches were simply in it for the power trip, and ultimately no more real than the baptist church that I had joined many years before.
As luck would have it, my mother took a further step in her own faith, and joined a charismatic church, "The King's Church". Strangely, my own experience had been one of abstinence, denial and so on... the happy clappy charismatic environment struck me as truly evil, and suddenly seeing my mother take part in "singing in the spirit" had me scouring the scriptures for proof that this was wrong...
What I found was my first contradictions in scripture. I became convinced that Saul of Tarsus was not the father of the gentile church, but rather an evil manipulator of the highest order: I saw everything after the book of Acts as apocryphal, and began to fear that much of my own understanding of the faith was based on twisted lies..
I tried to dispel the doubt, and threw myself into the work of the church, doing street ministry... and then it happened. My grandfather was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and subsequently died after six months of suffering and pain.
Again, I started to doubt, strating to see the christian god as evil. I found myself asking in church how anyone could bow the knee to a God that allowed such terrible things to happen? I found myself with one of the "big questions":
"If you are saved, but your partner is not, how can you be happy in heaven, knowing your partner is being tormented in hell?"
In my mind, the question had only one answer: because god wil do something to your mind to make you blissfull and content, accepting that your loved one somehow deserved their fate. Suddenly, the question took on a twisted second part..
"If you are saved, but your partner is not, how can you be happy in heaven, knowing your partner is being tormented in hell, BY THE SAME GOD YOU ARE WORSHIPPING?"
I still believed utterly in the scripture, in God and Jesus: they were transformed, however, into the enemies of mankind: to some evil power that despite being vastly greater than us failed to even have the same basic morality as us lesser beings.
I left the church after a few months: my agitiation and constantly asking the "wrong" questions was not popular.
Out of the church, I found a brief stopping off point in Wicca, finding a little more heart in nature worship as having fundamentally more truth to it. It was hard for me: I had been immersed into the church for so much of my life, that it was hard to think of any other way to be: I had heard voices in my head for so many years that it was hard to let go.
By this time, I had married my long suffering girlfriend (a former catholic) and settled into life together. We enjoyed intellectually challenging discussions, sitting with a half dozen books open comparing notes and discussing issues:
as we spoke and discussed, read and hammered out what we actually did believe, we realised that both of us were clinging desperately to any remains of faith simply because we were afraid to admit to ourselves, the absolute truth:
There is no god. no supernatural, nothing beyond, above, greater than us. To finally have the understanding that the voice in your head is your own voice echoing back at you, not some divine supernatural being is sobering.
Reading books like Matt Ridley's Genome or Richard Dawkin's blind watchmaker ultimately helped me to place my own mind back on a solid footing, one of evidence, not faith, verifiable scientific evidence, not make believe...
I have been "clean" of christ for ten years now (the same time at which a cancer survivor finally get's the all clear!!), and have started to produce leaflets to distribute to warn young people away from the God cult.
Finding a fellow community of Xtian survivors online is like a second birthday present, and I feel strongly that we (even more so than "regular" atheists) should never forget that we owe people the decency of warning them off: I lost my teenage years on my knees, and I won't ever get that back... but at least I woke up in time to enjoy the rest of my life!!!
State: North Lanarkshire
Became a Christian: 13
Ceased being a Christian: 22
Labels before: Baptist, Calvary Fellowship, Church of Christ
Labels now: Secular Humanist
Why I joined: Fear of Hell mostly, with some desire for acceptance
Why I left: How can any rational intelligent human being believe this nosense? I woke up!