sent in by Diogenes
I was raised Catholic, attended parochial schools through high school. I had a joyful and normal childhood, and still appreciate some of the traditions and trappings of my upbringing and the good education I received. When I was 16, my brother became a born-again Xian. He was influenced by a man he worked with, whom I never met, and that man, I found out, would later end up in a mental institution. As a kid I always looked up to him, so I listened to him when he would spout this new-fangled stuff in our home. My parents at first, were resistant, but then, to keep the peace, would attend and let me attend these "born-again" meetings with singing and clapping and preaching. I attended at first for curiosity, then for interest, and then because of peer pressure. I once made an altar call, and still dont remember why I did, maybe to get him off my back.
I was a good athlete in high school, but my attention was diverted to thoughts of hell and damnation, apocalyptic prophecy, etc. (pretty heavy stuff for a young kid to think about), so I stopped pursuing less serious things like sports and normal teenage activities. At the same time I started to experiment with drugs and alcohol. I received two academic scholarships at colleges close to home, but decided to go far away to college, mainly to get out from under my brother's influence. He was married and quite a bit older than me. When I went to college, I spent the first year partying, having a good time, studied enough to get good grades. When I came home that summer, I was influenced by my brother to find a good Christian group on campus for the next year. For whatever reason, I did. It turned out to be a campus ministry of a very controlling "Discipleship/Shepherding" church. I guess I thought that if Im going to do this and if its real, then I might as well be with people who are serious about it. For the next three years, most every aspect of my life became devoted to "ministry," and being controlled by the church hierarchy, including my own personal "shepherd," who would have me do his chores and tell me what to do, where to live, who to date (or rather mostly not date), with whom to associate, even sometimes what classes to take. It got so bad, I hid it from my family. I lived in houses with other members of the church, in a neighborhood with several houses owned and occupied by church members We spent our time trying to recruit new members and in endless prayer, study and worship meetings, at times 5-10 meetings a week! Even my brother would have thought this to be extreme. Here I was having tried to escape it, and I fell headlong into something much worse!
During senior year, I was permitted to "date" one of the female church members. It was then recommended that I marry her so we could be a couple in ministry with a vision to plant new churches of this kind in other places. I ended up marrying her, even though she told me things about herself only shortly before the marriage some things which otherwise would have given me pause. I was told we were engaged (or "betrothed") and that was as good as married and Jesus accepted me when I wasn't perfect. Anyway, after being married and not able to find a decent job in the area, I was offered a position out west and for the first time in several years, a spark of reality flickered and we decided to move. Of course I was shunned and would never hear from people in the church for years after we left - people who we thought were our best friends. Leaving the church meant being a non-person, obviously backslidden and in danger of losing one's soul. Today that church is a little more mainstream, the head pastor having left the ministry due to alcoholism and some assistant pastors have had severe scandals too.
After I left, I began to study and read voratiously. Knowing that what I had come from, wasn't what Xianity was supposed to be, but unwilling to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath-water. I thought I could find answers by studying the scriptures and theology. I ended up becoming a hard-core Calvinist and reconstructionist with a very legalistic mindset. Meanwhile my spouse had clear psychological and emotional issues. The marriage was always stormy. Many of her actions would have caused me under normal circumstances to leave the marriage. After several years, we separate, but holding to a legalistic view of marriage and divorce (and heavily influenced by a Xian counselor/pastor), we got back together to try again. We ended up back together, had children and only recently we got a divorce. Looking back, we were never a good match at all. She still attends a wacky "word-faith" church.
I would like to completely step away from any sort of church or Xian mentality. For years, I have had only friends within churches and am afraid of being alone. I still go to a church occasionally and maintain friendships there, but I have no interest in what the church is actually about. I am trying now to rebuild my life, find myself, and make some sense of the past 25 years of turmoil. I'm excited, scared, and regretful. Just writing this is cathartic and therapeutic. I hope to join in further discussion.
Ceased being a Christian: >40
Labels before: Catholic, charismatic, born-again, Baptist, nutcase
Labels now: hopeful agnostic, Taoist leanings
Why I joined: age 16
Why I left: asked some new questions