sent in by TWJ
Just thought I'd add my two cents. My father was a conservative, fundamentalist minister who is well known to many in the mid-west. I remember when I was first questioning my faith and I wished I could just hear about someone like me who had left his or her faith. It wasn't easy at first, but has become much easier and more comfortable as time passes. I'm 45 now and have a lovely wife and family.
I found that leaving my parents, extended family and friends to live in other states helped make leaving "the faith" much less painful. It can be difficult at first, but it can be done successfully.
I'd recommend that if you're a young person who is a "free thinker", if you've found the courage to admit that no one knows if there is a God or not, just keep it to yourself. This is particularly true for PKs (preacher's kids) and MKs (missionary's kids). Don't let people know that you're a non-believer until you can afford to become financially independent. Get yourself through school - far from home if possible, then get a decent job and move away.
I'm really talking to young adults who are trapped in very tight, high profile religious families. No one can imagine the grip that this type of life can have on a child unless you've lived it and have successfully escaped it.
Only the brave of heart, only those who have the courage to face the truth, will leave the faith they were born into. That's why Muslim kids become Muslims, Buddhists become Buddhists and babies born to Christian parents become Christians. This is particularly true if the parents are "faithful" believers in their religion - fundamentalists.
As you go through life, you'll find that very few people are brave enough to admit that they don't believe in God. Truly INTROSPECTIVE, curious, intelligent individuals who are willing to reflect upon the truth of human existence will come to a point in their life when they do not believe in any religion.
This "enlightenment" or period of "doubt" (depending on your perspective) can be brought about by numerous things. In my experience, I've found that comprehensive education, literature, science, music, art, conversational comments, study of philosopy or negative personal experiences in a religious setting can trigger the lucid thoughts that allow us to contemplate the possibility of living life without religion.
This realization can take place within a few minutes or a person may struggle for years with this "doubt". At some point most people will make a decision to free themselves from religion or go along with it because the alternative is so painful.
Although there are people who really believe that their religion is true, many people go to church or claim a religion simply because they can't imagine any way of fitting into society without it. Some fear what would happen to their relationships with family and friends without the common bond of their belief in religion. The sickening truth is that sometimes the very people who at one point realize that God is not real, actually make a conscious decision to "fake it 'till 'ya make it" or "believe" because the alternative is so frightening to them.
Read as much as you can, learn as much as you can, be truly honest with yourself, and you'll find that you won't be able to remain a christian. In fact, you won't be able to have any "faith". You'll find that you've become one of us, one who honestly recognizes that religions were born of man's need to have explanations. Religions 'fill the gaps' and provide a crutch, an opiate, for the masses that are not courageous enough to face the truth.
I've come to think of myself as an atheist. Not because I know there isn't a god, but because I've chosen to live my life as if there isn't one. I have no reason to believe in god and every reason to believe that we are not very different from the other life on this planet. More advanced in many ways, but still, probably just the lucky result of nature's crapshoot. Now I choose to live by the rules of society that humans have subconsciously recognized from the dawn of time rules that preserve humanity and insure the survival of our species.
When we die, we die. There's no afterlife, no heaven, no hell, we just stop breathing and loose consciousness. Once you wrap your mind around it, it's a beautiful, freeing thing. On the other hand, this is the very concept that most people aren't prepared to face. The fact that you're responsible for your actions, that you get a few moments of consciousness, and that you pass away into nothingness without anything to show for it - no one judges you - no one takes your hand to lead you into the clouds because you were such a good person, sends you back to live life again so you can learn more lessons, or kicks you into hell... you just die.
Good luck in your personal search for truth.
To thine own self be true!