Where do I begin?

sent in by Emma

I'm a little nervous about sharing this with anyone, but here goes!

Where do I begin? I became a Christian at the age of 3, lying in my bed alone one night after hearing Bible stories from my mom. I don't recall being scared into it; it just seemed like a really good idea, inviting this nice man named Jesus into my heart.

My mom was raised in the Lutheran church, but said she didn't become "truly saved" until she was 14 years old, as the result of attending bible camp. My dad was raised Lutheran as well, but he never really put much stock in it until after he married my mom. They attended a showing of a Billy Graham video, and he "became saved" as a result.

Shortly after, they began to attend the Baptist church in town.

My dad was an unusually temperamental and angry person while I was growing up. He loved to use Bible verses such as "Wives, submit to your husbands" to ensure his position as the "head of the house." I remember cowering in the
other room, listening to him yelling at my mom and throwing things around. He made the mistake once of hitting her,
and she ran away to my grandparents. She only came back after telling him if he ever hit her again or laid a hand on us kids, that she would leave and never come back. To his credit, he never again got physical, but this did not mean he was a changed man.

Notwithstanding, my religious life was relatively happy and unchallenged. I knew (because my mother said so, of course) that my dad took these bible verses out of context, and I happily believed that every word of the bible was literally true and inherently good. I went to Baptist Sunday school and loved the stories, the singing, and of course, the candy at the end.

When I was a few years older, my mom decided to start attending a non-denominational charismatic "fellowship" in the same town. She took me and my brother and sister, and my dad eventually followed. At first, all the clapping and shouting and speaking in tongues bothered me, especially because I was afraid of what all my friends would think when they found out I went to this type of church. However, after a while I became good friends with the kids there and started "speaking in tongues" myself after one of their youth rallies. During my years at this church, I became even more convinced of the infallibility of the scriptures (as if any other ideas were entertained), and even more convinced that all of my "non-charismatic" friends and family who went to other churches (read: Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian) weren't "true" Christians. They might go to heaven, sure. But they were wrong about everything else. I became baptized when I was 14 or 15 to show the world my faith.

When I was 15, I started dating a boy my age whom I went to church with. My family became really good friends with his family and we all began spending time at either their house or ours to play games, watch movies, etc. Of course, at 15 years of age, our hormones were racing at full speed, and we began to experiment sexually whenever we could steal away from our families. As devout Christians, you can imagine the guilt we felt about breaking god's rules and engaging in sex "outside of marriage," but we justified our behavior by never going "all the way." We dated for 2 1/2 years, being sexually active the entire time. I even broke down one time under intense guilt and confessed to my parents what we had been doing. They were apalled, and tried to lay down rules and monitor us more closely, but we always managed to find time alone anyway. We were convinced we would get married, so maybe it would be okay with god when it was all said and done.

When I was 17, I moved to a town an hour away to attend college. My boyfriend broke up with me shortly after, and I was devastated. My mom took it upon herself to get me involved in a church in this new town, so I would have a new support group. I started attending another charismatic church, only this was the "name it and claim it" type who believed you could have whatever you wanted if you claimed it by faith. They were just as fundamental, and just as convinced that they had the "corner on God," as the last church. I jumped in with both feet and bought it hook, line and sinker. I was even more devoted to god, more devout, and more convinced that I was on the fast track to heaven. I went on prayer walks, spoke in tongues every day, and joined the church's read-the-bible-in-a-year plan (which, interestingly, only covered the new testament.) I taught Sunday school to 1st through 5th graders and loved it. I went on a mission trip to China to smuggle in bibles. I gave ten percent of everything I earned to the church. If the church was open, I was there. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, bible studies, special speakers. I was a leader of a high school youth group. I went to different cities to see famous word-of-faith preachers such as Marilyn Hickey, Joyce Meyers, and (cringe) Benny Hinn. (Even then, I thought Benny Hinn was a bit of a fake. It didn't affect my faith in god in the least, however.) I was completely devoted to god and just as devoted to my "church family." Any man I dated had to be a devoted Christian. I was even baptized _again_ to prove that I was serious about god. (I never felt any different afterwards, however, and do remember feeling some mild disappointment.)

In the midst of all this somewhere, I began dating a man who was not as devout as maybe he should have been. We had a very open relationship, and eventually I broke down, broke the rules and had sex. And the next day, I was sure god would punish me. The guilt was intense, but of course, god didn't strike me dead. We continued our relationship for quite a while, and I always felt like somewhat of a hypocrite to be happily sitting in church, when I was so obviously breaking god's law most evenings. However, my devotion to god didn't wane in the least. I would always ask for "forgiveness" and felt that at least it wasn't the worst sin I could be committing.

During this time, I became very sick physically and that sickness in turn made me very depressed. I felt cut off from everything, everyone. I couldn't feel, couldn't think. I couldn't see the end. Thankfully, with the help of a doctor who sent me on the path to recovery, with both good nutrition and drugs, I was able to get well. And still I was completely devoted to god, utterly convinced that he had used the doctor to heal me.

I hope I have not lost anyone in my narrative thus far. I only aim to show that I was completely and one hundred percent convinced that god was real and directly involved in my life.

I began dating the man I am dating now, a wonderful, intelligent guy with two daughters from a previous marriage. He was very respectful of my views, but did not share them. He had been turned off by religion and by hypocritical believers long before. At first, it bothered me greatly that he didn't believe as I did, and I knew he would go to hell. However, as time went on, and I saw what a good person he was, what an incredible father he was, I knew that regardless of his beliefs, I wanted to be with him. I started attending church less and less regularly, not because I believed in god any less, but because I grew tired of church attendees asking me when I was going to bring my boyfriend to church. After awhile I stopped going to church altogether. My church "family" never called, never wrote, except to ask when they saw me around town why I wasn't in church. My boyfriend and I moved in together after dating for 2 years, and my parents were extremely upset about it. They asked me if I thought god approved. I said I thought god would surely respect my decision to be with the one person I love. My views of the bible had perhaps become more liberal, but my view of god was the same: he loved me and wanted the best for me.

Just three months ago, my boyfriend read _The DaVinci Code_. He explained the premise to me, and I remember feeling rather uncomfortable with some of the subject matter. However, I try to keep an open mind and so I read the book. I found it fascinating, even at the idea of there being a female part of god. It did not lessen my view of god at all, perhaps just expanded it. I still believed that the bible was completely true. I began reading _Secrets of the Code_, a book that explains in depth some of the subjects addressed in _The DaVinci Code_. While reading the section on the lost gospels, I came across an interview with the author Timothy Freke in which he was asked the question, "In your opinion, is there any evidence that Jesus lived?" He answered: "None at all. The only evidence we have is fake. I would categorically say there is no evidence at all for the historical Jesus, but loads to suggest that the gospel story is a myth." (Secrets of the Code by Dan Burstein; pp. 136.)

I couldn't breathe.

If Jesus didn't exist, that meant my entire faith was null and void. I immediately went to the internet and typed in "Jesus, myth." You would not believe how much information I came up with from those two little words. I spent _every waking minute_ of the next two weeks reading as much as I could on the subject. If I wasn't at work, I was parked in front of the computer, reading whatever I could find. Amazingly, it all made sense. Apart from my initial reaction of absolute panic, I realized how irrational I had been for the last twenty-one years of my life. It was as if the scales fell from my eyes and I could finally see the truth. In a matter of two weeks my entire belief system had been leveled to the ground. No Jesus, no God, no Holy Spirit, no Satan, no heaven, no hell. I began to read the bible, old testament included, and realized what kind of god I had professed faith in. I saw all of the discrepancies and atrocities throughout the bible and realized what an awful piece of literature I had based my entire life on. The process wasn't painful, it wasn't scary. I was suddenly just free.

I told my boyfriend, and he was just as supportive as ever. I have not told my family yet, as I know they will be devastated. If it comes up, I will answer honestly. But for now, I will hold my peace.

I find myself newly curious about so many things. And I look forward to spending the rest of my one and only life finding out.

City: Hays
State: KS
Country: USA
Became a Christian: 3
Ceased being a Christian: 24
Labels before: Baptist, Charismatic
Labels now: Atheist
Why I joined: I loved the bible stories I heard from my mom.
Why I left: I realized the Christian faith is based on a myth.
Email Address: emma_enlightened at yahoo dot com

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