sent in by Meg
I was born & raised in Seattle, one of the most agnostic cities in the nation. I grew up in a largely non-religious household; my father was (and still is) basically agnostic, while during most of my childhood my mother was in a crisis of faith and on her own spiritual path. She experimented with a lot of different religions when I was a child, so I remember going to church occasionally, but I don't remember ever being compelled to attend or being told what to believe.
I should mention that my mother was also an alcoholic, because that plays a significant role in both her religious experience and mine. When I was around 16, my mother hit rock bottom, and had what she believes was a healing experience. She discovered Jesus and quit drinking because she believed that God had healed her of her alcoholism. (Whether she's right or not, a positive thing is that she has been sober for 16 years now.)
I should also mention that my mother was emotionally abusive. It was most acute when she drank, but didn't stop when she quit. This also plays a role in my conversion/deconversion. Around the same time as my mother discovered Christianity, I was raped by a boyfriend. I tried to tell my family what had happened, but for whatever reason, they were unable to get their heads around the idea that a 16-year-old could have sex without wanting to. Consequently, they didn't believe me, and didn't listen to me. Instead, I was blamed for what happened and placed under house arrest until I graduated from high school. It became very clear to me that I was persona non grata in my household, especially with my mother. Sex before marriage had been absolutely forbidden even before she converted; now that she was a convert, it was among the unforgivable sins.
So I ended up converting shortly afterwards. At the time I really didn't know why I converted. After many years, I've been able to look back and realize that I was, on some level, trying to get back into my mother's good graces -- i.e., I was trying to get my mother to stop thinking I was a dirty slut and stop treating me like a huge disappointment.
One of the reasons why I suspect this was my real motivation for converting is because of how closely my own beliefs paralleled my mother's. She became a Fundamentalist and started attending an Assemblies of God church, and adopted many of the beliefs fundies have (utter inerrancy of the Bible, everyone who isn't a believer is going to hell, etc.). I adopted the same beliefs too. In fact when I look back on those years, even though I didn't go to the extreme of getting rid of my non-fundie friends, I know I was a big pain in the ass a lot of the time, trying to get my friends and relatives to convert. My mother and I were even baptised together - full immersion, the whole nine yards.
I stuck with Xianity into my early 20's. I pressured a guy I was seeing into converting, so that it would be okay to marry him. Then I got married to him, mostly because I thought that was what I was supposed to do: get married and have Xian babies. A few years into it I realized it was bullshit, a horrible marriage, and a waste of time. I didn't know what to do, though, because my church basically taught that marriage was forever, and you couldn't get out of it no matter how miserable it was.
Around this time my father's parents both died. I had a huge crisis of faith at that point, because I can honestly say that my dad's parents were the only people in my life from whom I really ever experienced unconditional love. My mother told me that they weren't Xians, and because they'd never accepted JC as Lord & Savior (you know the magic formula...), they were probably in hell, and it didn't matter how loving or caring or good they had been while they were alive.
That totally depressed me. So did the reality of my rotten marriage. I slumped into a huge depression and a huge crisis of faith, and started asking the probing questions, like what the hell kind of jerk was God if he'd condemn people like my grandparents? And what the hell kind of lousy religion was it where God wanted me to be miserable my whole life because of my broken marriage?
In a nutshell, I started to think that any kind of God that would be that way was, frankly, a really crappy God. In my mid-twenties I didn't ditch Xianity entirely, but I started looking around at other religions and philosophies. My marriage deteriorated, despite my attempts to fix it. (Part of the problem was that I was trying to fix it with no help from my spouse.) I eventually got to a point where I realized I was so miserable that I was either going to kill myself, kill my spouse, or get a divorce. That was a shocking realization, because I'd never expected to be in such a desperate place. So I filed for divorce in the year 2000.
By that time I'd begun looking at goddess-centered religions and faiths such as Buddhism and Hinduism. I was realizing that I was probably pagan, and probably always had been. I still wasn't quite sure which direction to take my spirituality though. I figured that whatever deity was out there would let me know whatever I needed to know, and I just worked on that basis.
The final decision came after I made the mistake of dating a fundie Xian. It started out okay, in fact it started out great - he came across as being warm, affectionate, and genuinely interested in who I was as a person. He was particularly interested in my spiritual life. At the time I found this refreshing, since no one else had ever wanted to know me on that level; but now I'd consider it a big Red Flag. I understand now that he was only interested in my spirituality because he wanted to be able to undermine it so that he could insert his own religion and re-convert me.
Things went okay for awhile, until I got tired of the constant pressure to convert. Eventually he had a talk with one of his fundie friends, who told him "get rid of this one so that the Lord can find you a godly woman." (Yeah - the "unequally yoked" crap.) I found out at that point that he'd be lying to me from day one. He'd never really been interested in me at all as a person. In fact, when we met, he regarded me as being emotionally needy, and decided that he was the one to "fix" me. His solution was, of course, to show me Jesus, and then I'd convert and everything would be wonderful. I also found out that he was a porn addict, and had lied about it. When we first got together he claimed it was an issue he'd dealt with in the past, but that God had healed him from it; later on I learned that he'd never stopped using it at all. I found out that he had never loved me at all, and had, in fact, stood there and lied to me about it from day one. I found out that his goal had been to convert me, and when I didn't convert on his schedule, he rejected me outright. Moreover, the relationship had become somewhat sexual, something which he regarded as sinful (even though he was perfectly willing to use me to jack off with), and something for which he blamed me in the end. (I.e., the standard fundie crap of "blame the woman for tempting the man to sin".)
When I learned all of this, I called him on it, and ripped him a new one. He whined and wailed for a few weeks about how right I was and what an awful person he'd been, then got impatient with me for not forgiving him and still being angry about it. Ultimately the whole thing was always about him. In the end he blamed me for "making him" lie to me, and dismissed me outright.
After being with this person, I felt spiritually raped. It has taken a *very* long time to get over the emotional and spiritual devastation the whole thing left behind. It was kind of surprising to me, how deeply it impacted me, but it makes sense in light of how willingly vulnerable I made myself to this person, based on how he initially presented himself.
My experience with this person was what sealed the deconversion: after him, I was *definitely* not Xian. After him, I realized that if being Xian meant I had to be like him, I'd rather go to hell. I also knew that I'd never trust another Xian again, and I'd never be Xian again, either. It was crystal clear that there was no place for me in this person's religion. It was also clear to me that I didn't want to follow his God anyway.
Since then, I've considered myself a Neopagan. At the moment I'm studying Hellenic Reconstructionism, since that seems most honest, considering the kind of stories and studies I've undertaken since childhood. (I loved the Greek myths as a kid, and took Latin in highschool and Classical Greek in college... go figure.)
I'm happy to say that I'm not enemies with either my mother or my ex-husband. I look at both of them now as just being people that have their own foibles and issues. My mother is still a fundie, but she has mellowed a lot over the years. I think she realizes that she doesn't want to lose her loved ones by alienating them with her judgmental attitude. My ex is still Xian, and I will say a very intelligent, thoughtful one as well. We were friends before we married, and though we are no longer close, we keep in touch now and again.(He had enough sense not to fall into the fundie abyss. He was Presbyterian, last time I checked...) I've remarried, to a person much more like me, who's also a neopagan. He has a much more Wiccan flavor than I do. So far we're very happy. *:)
I look at the Bible now *not* as the inerrant Word of God, but as one of many works of faith and philosophy that exist in the world today. I give it the same weight that I might give the Koran, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the works of Aristotle: all of them probably contain valuable wisdom, but all of them were also written by *humans*, not by God. Humans can create remarkable things, but we can also screw things up good and proper. I do not rely on any one source as being the Ultimate Truth About Life, the Universe, and Everything.
At the same time, I can't simply dismiss things like my mother's conversion experience. Is there a god, and did he heal her? I don't know, but I do know that for her, it was a deeply spiritual experience. Ultimately I figure that there are as many spiritual paths on this earth as there are people, and they all lead to the same place. If she had something happen to her that enriched her life spiritually, I'm not going to knock her for it. (But neither am I going to follow her anymore.)
Anyhoo, that's the gist of it. Thanks for reading this whole thing. And thanks for the forum, it's really refreshing. *:)
Became a Christian: 16
Ceased being a Christian: 29
Labels before: Born-again, fundie, evangelical, AoG, generally spiritually stupid
Labels now: Hellenic Pagan
Why I joined: To make peace with my family
Why I left: Crisis of faith, reality check
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)