sent in by Psychobunny56
I apologize in advance for the length of this story, but you can’t allow me to write without a defined length limit and expect something short.
Any good deconversion story starts with the reasons the person sought religion in the first place. For many people that reason is simple: they were born into a religious family. Mine, unfortunately, is not that straightforward. The most religious people in my extended family are baptized and go to church only on Christmas and Easter; I was not among that group, but needless to say, there was very little religious influence on me as a child. Some people would argue that I was lucky not to have that pressure on me; I believe my gross ignorance of religious matters was a major factor in my eventual acceptance of literal, fundamentalist, born-again Christianity.
How ignorant was I? I did not even hear the name Jesus until I was four years old; I actually had to ask my mother who this person Jesus was in the song “Jesus Loves Me.” She explained, I accepted (how many four-year-olds do you know who would doubt their own mothers?) and for the next two years, the whole “God thing” was a non-issue. During that time, I grew up a little and learned the truth about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I started to think that maybe, just maybe, the adults were lying to me about God, too.
The disbelief persisted, but when I asked no one would admit they were lying, and the more they denied it, the surer I was that I was right, because they had denied the nonexistence of the former supernatural entities until I annoyed them enough to admit it. Since no one would tell me the truth, I devised a little experiment (Feel free to laugh. I do when I think back on it.): If what they said at daycare was true, then Jesus loved me. My mother had explained that Jesus was God, and I figured that if God really loved me, He would not want me to get hurt. I wanted to levitate like my favorite cartoon character. We could work together. I would pull both legs out from under me at once, and God, who supposedly loved me and did not want to see me get hurt, would have mercy and let me levitate for a split second before returning me safely to the ground. Right?
Wrong. That was a rather painful lesson. I came up with a few possibilities for what went wrong: one, I was right and God really didn’t exist; or two, God exists but doesn’t love me; and three, that was just a really stupid thing to do and the pain was my punishment regardless of whether God exists or not. Yes, it was a deeply flawed experiment, but looking back, I am strangely proud of it, proud of the fact that I was agnostic before some sects even realize you have the ability to make rational decisions. I wish I had been able to keep that healthy skepticism, but, unfortunately, life intervened.
For a year when I was seven and eight years old, I was repeatedly molested at daycare; it stopped only when my mother could no longer afford daycare and pulled me out of it. I did not tell anyone what had happened and I, like many children in the same situation, blamed myself. I became withdrawn and depressed; by the time I was nine, I thought of suicide on a daily basis. The depression lifted shortly thereafter without medication or counseling and, for a while, I was fine.
When I was eleven, my beloved great-grandmother died and I was rejected from my school’s gifted program, not because of my IQ, I later found out, but due probably to my teacher’s recommendation. At twelve, our class went off to middle school and I was suddenly isolated from all the friends I had made over the past few years. I withdrew again, never speaking unless spoken to (definitely not normal behavior for a now-thirteen year old girl!) and the depression came back, familiar yet different from the last time. Instead of feeling suicidal, I felt completely numb, desperate to feel something, to feel anything; I felt completely apathetic as to whether I lived or died. It was then that my best friend from elementary school decided to invite me to her church for youth group.
I went that first Wednesday because I missed her company and because I had nothing better to do that night. Everyone in the group was so nice, so friendly; they cared about me when I could not give a damn, so I learned three Bible verses that night (Have you ever noticed that they are only the nice ones? It is never the “eat shit, drink piss, hate your family, dash little ones against rocks” stuff, it is always the “alpha, omega, omniscient, omnipotent” verses, probably because no one would join if they knew the whole truth.) and recited them to join the youth group.
All of a sudden, I was learning things to which I had previously not been exposed. I was still a skeptic then, and I had so many questions about this God fellow, but the youth group leaders could not give me suitable answers. I wanted evidence; all they offered was faith, and their reactions to my skeptical attitude were not pleasant. I was made to feel little better than Satan spawn for even daring to ask such heresies and told I was going to Hell for doubting the teachings of their Lord (I was still unsure as to whether the whole thing was made up or not. I decided I would never positively know if a god(dess) existed, and had no clue how they could be so sure of themselves, but I worried that if a god(dess) did indeed exist, I was displeasing him or her with my thoughts of his or her non-existence.). At one point, I asked how evolution—which I knew very little about—fit into the Genesis creation story; they responded by showing us fifteen hours of Kent Hovind lectures and ordering me to pray for salvation. That night—January 20, 1999—was the night I was “born again”, the night I was finally recognized as a true member of their church, but the coercive tactics did not stop. They influenced me despite these hard-handed methods—I learned to stop asking questions, to stop demanding evidence as a prerequisite for belief, to do what the leaders said to do and keep quiet about it.
It was not easy. They demanded total loyalty: encouraging us to listen only to Christian music and read Christian literature, telling us that our friends and dates should belong to the group also (to the point that, if we were going to speak to people who were not church members, it should be solely to witness for Christ), warning us that the Devil was actively working to corrupt us, and the like (“The Bible says to honor your parents, but if they’re not Christians, they could be endangering your salvation!”). I still did not care whether I lived or died, but they made it clear that people who commit suicide go to Hell for taking the choice away from God (but what about our free will?, I wanted to ask). I did not know how a God who supposedly loved me would allow me to feel so terrible for so long and then, if I tried to end the pain, would torture me for eternity, but I stopped contemplating suicide. And as I did, I used religious activities to fill the void, proselytizing aggressively though I felt uncomfortable forcing my beliefs on others. I had something to live for: an invisible triune man in the sky.
All that time I lived one block from the church, but that May, Mom and I moved and now I was miles from my little support group. I found, to my surprise, that I really did not miss them all that much. I liked not having to listen to their idiotic and contradictory explanations. Moreover, I started to think for myself once more and to form opinions of my own, radical feminism being among the first thanks to an extremely offensive sexist teacher I had in seventh grade. Radical feminism is not compatible with literal Christian fundamentalism (duh), but instead of changing my opinion of feminism, I started looking for a more suitable faith. I realized that I had swallowed the group’s outrageous claims completely; I did not ever want to be manipulated like that again, and I thought that if I did not find a mainstream religion I would be a good target for cults. At first, because what I had been taught was still fresh in my mind, I looked only at Christian denominations, but by the time I was sixteen I had started to look at all the major world religions, systematically rejecting them one by one until I was left with just a few that I considered less objectionable than the rest. Even those, however, did not come anywhere near what I thought about the world and what a supreme being should be. I worked off the Christian god-concept of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence; I would gladly have sacrificed the knowledge or the power, but any deity worth worshipping had to be omnibenevolent, and, having studied some basic psychology and physiology, I was convinced that consciousness was a product of brain activity (no soul, no afterlife, no rebirth), making for a rather interesting and difficult search. Despite rejecting every religion I researched, I still clung ferociously to my nontraditional god(dess)-belief, trying to be “spiritual but not religious” , because I thought it was the only thing that had saved me from suicide.
By that point, I believed very few of the things the group had indoctrinated me with, but the idiotic denial of evolution was one of them. I had never heard the other side of the argument as my high school did not teach evolution in its science classes (this is completely unacceptable considering I had five science classes, two of which were biology!) and I never bothered to look it up, having been told by the group leaders and the videotapes that “the evolutionists are in the minority”, “the evolutionists are a bunch of dirty atheists out to corrupt your faith”, and “evolution is just a theory”. When I went to college, however, this changed. A skeptical psychology professor blew to hell that irrational belief with his statement in lecture, “If you believe that DNA can be used to solve crimes, I don’t know why you refuse to believe that humans and chimpanzees share 98% of their DNA.” I looked it up—he was right; this was yet another lie perpetrated by the youth group, and I had fallen for it.
This particular professor had said, on the same day, that he was “an agnostic at best and an atheist on [his] bad days.” If he was right about evolution, maybe he was right about God, too, but I was not going to take just anyone’s word for it. I had studied different religions in my free time for two years and knew that no existing religion fit what I believed, knew that even during the height of my religious fervor I had been an agnostic (and felt pretty damn guilty about not having had enough faith), so I started reading about agnosticism and atheism. (The deconversion stories on this site helped a lot. Thank you!) In doing so, I realized that while I still did not know for sure whether any deities existed, I felt almost positive that I would not find one that conformed to my criteria. On October 12, 2004, I let go of my god(dess)-belief. I had finally found something in which I could actually believe, something that did not require me to change my opinions to conform, something that felt completely, unreservedly right—a giant load had been taken off my chest, I had butterflies in my stomach, I was finally at peace. The search was over; only I, and not some invisible friend in the sky, was responsible for what would happen to me, for my own actions, and for making the world a better place.
I owe that professor a thank you for provoking me into thinking for myself. And I owe the people on exchristian.net a thank you for sharing their stories. You all have greatly influenced me and I very much appreciate it.
Became a Christian: 13
Ceased being a Christian: 18
Labels before: born-again Christian (a.k.a., rabid fundy)
Labels now: agnostic, atheist, skeptic
Why I joined: social pressure and suicidal depression
Why I left: finally encouraged to think for myself
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)