Sent in by SG
I was brought up in what most in this country would consider a fundamentalist Christian church called the Apostolic Christian Church in the conservative Midwest whose members were predominately poorly educated farmers and local small-businessmen. It was actually a safe environment from a physical threat kid-perspective. In my teen years (late 70's – early 80s) everyone around our country home left their doors unlocked and their keys in the ignition. There was no gangs, no violence, no theft… just ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice. It was an extremely insular social environment where children were carefully indoctrinated and guided into the faith. Many houses (ours included) had no television set since it was considered evil. Church families didn't go to the movie theaters, sporting events (even your own kid's school sports) or other raucous events. Even the local annual street fair and 4-H fairs were viewed with suspicion. Apostolics are like Amish, except with cars and electricity.
Apostolics are unique in the way they view those in their church and accept membership into their ranks. You are only considered an Apostolic church member after a lengthy vetting process. The “Convert” experiences guilt/fear (typically in their teens) and subsequently chooses to participate in a 3-12 month process marked by disassociation with existing friends/habits, immersion in bible studies and group-think sessions, and a pathological vehement rejection of your past self.
However, prior to this process of converting to this church, attendees are considered to be non-members with few moral obligations or pretensions. As a result, if you are not a member, and you are not in the process of converting to be a member, there is no compulsion or desire to project yourself as a Christian…because you aren't. As a result, some of the biggest hell raisers I knew (myself included) were un-converted Apostolic teens. After sowing their wild oats, most kids eventually joined the Church.
I never took the bait. Nearly all of my friends did. I was "left behind." The traumatic effect on those left behind is comparable to a death of a loved one. This jarring experience typically goes down like this. Say my close friend is my confidant and I spend a lot of time together going to the movies, ballgames, parties, etc. Suddenly, one day, he comes over with a starry gaze in his eyes and says he's Converting to be in the church. He says his heart was "heavy" the night before. It's not much of a discussion, maybe only a few minutes. He seems happy, he's already met with the minister late the night before and committed to his new path. His parents are ecstatic. It will be announced to the whole church on Sunday. He's made them proud. And then it's over. The conversation and the friendship…is over—but it gets worse….
I don't do anything with that friend ever again. He now has a whole new army of friends who anxiously keep him away from me—lest I derail his fragile path towards the faith. On rare occasions, our paths cross. I might be tempted to recollect my fond memories of our shared past—perhaps some mischievous deed that evokes laughter in me. He seems indignant, restrained, ashamed…downplaying the incident or loftily looks away as if he's painfully searching his memory. He's been reprogrammed now. They're told not to relish the memories of past "sin" as part of their indoctrination process. I've lost him, and a part of me. It's as if our shared experiences in life didn't happen. This continues through my teen years, with most of my church friends evaporating into the faith-ether--that smug, halo-haze obscuring that self-righteous den of dogmatic iniquity called the Apostolic Church.
I never felt compelled or tempted to take the plunge. The whole enterprise seemed sinister... manipulative to me. Perhaps because it was! So I never did "leave" Christianity because I never really was a full-blooded Christian to begin with. But I wanted to submit this story to point out that it is difficult simply leaving your Christian roots.
I basically drifted as an un-aware agnostic for a long time after college. Then, in my late 30's, I would take up the gauntlet to determine to my satisfaction what to believe based on the evidence, not dogma. Only then did I understand the full measure of negative influence that church had on me. At 40 years old, as an out-of-the-closet atheist, I'm still trying to shed the bitterness, animosity, fear and guilt implanted into me years ago. Sigh... isn't Christ's love wondrous?
I told my mom several years ago that I'm an atheist. She paused, looked quizzically at me for a moment, and without skipping a beat, proclaimed that she didn't believe that I was REALLY an atheist. It was kinda like saying to me that I didn't know what I was talking about. I waited for a moment, then looked her in the eye, and in a hushed manner said, "I've never really thought you were a true Christian." After a good 10 seconds of awkward silence, I said, "It doesn't feel good does it?"