Sent in by Brian
My story of leaving Christianity is a little different than most I’ve heard or read. The focus of my story is how much I regret now, looking back on my life, that would have been different had I not been a Christian.
Starting from the beginning: I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. My parents never really went to church, except occasionally on holidays my mom might take me to a church. The first time I ever attended a Catholic mass, I was with one of my mom’s friends. I turned to her about half-way through the mass and asked, “Who is getting married?” My parents had been brought up Christian, but they never really forced anything on me.
I made friends with Christians at my elementary school. One of them invited me to attend some Bible camp. I think it was during the summer after first grade. I had no idea what it was, but I went. It was pretty fun, we got to do crafts and play games. I think it was three days long, but I only went on the last day. I remember that there was also a chapel service at the end where the preacher asked, “Have any of you not accepted Jesus?” I of course had not, so I raised my hand and went to the altar, along with a few other kids. We all said the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus into our hearts. My mom was there with me, and I think she was happy that I had made a decision about religion on my own, without her pressuring me into it.
After that, I didn’t think too much about religion, since the preacher had said we were now saved. I thought that was pretty much the end of it, and I had better things to do. Besides, I was seven or so, and my parents didn’t attend church. As I learned how to read better, I began to read a Bible that my grandmother (who is extremely religious) had given to me. For some reason, I absolutely believed that every word in that book was God’s word, handed down to the men who penned it. I’m not sure how I came to that conclusion, but I do remember at one point asking my mom, “Was Jesus real?” And she said yes, there were historical records of him. Then I asked if he had been resurrected. She said, “Oh yeah, he walked around and talked to people!” That was probably enough for me at that age. That aligned with the book, so it must be accurate, right?
I had met one of my closest friends in second grade. Into middle school, he asked me to spend the night several weekends, and would always say, “Oh, and we can all go to church on Sunday!” I never really understood why he would say that. I thought, however, that church was more of a family thing, and I didn’t want to intrude on his family, so I would always ask to be taken home. Of course, he was actually sincere in wanting me to get into church; he just never really told me that. Anyway, this same friend asked me to attend a summer vacation Bible school, I think the summer after seventh grade. I went, because he had described it as a place to go and hang out with people our age, to go swimming and play sports and just hang out. I decided sure, it’s a great chance to hang out with my friend.
I quickly realized that I was very different from most of the other kids at VBS. I was listening, at the time, to what I later learned was known as “secular music.” I would try talking to other people about popular artists at the time, and most of them didn’t know what I was talking about (or, more likely, were scared to death to admit that they did). I had also expected that camp would be a place for us to just sort of pick our activities and do what we wanted within the confines of the space provided. Instead, the schedule was tightly controlled. There were three chapel services per day, and in between, it was sports for the boys, and crafts (I think) for the girls. There was only maybe an hour per day of individual time, just before lights out, at which point we were required to be in our rooms. It wasn’t what I expected, but it wasn’t so bad. But the environment produced an atmosphere where, even if one were inclined to question the teachings at the chapel services, one couldn’t because there was absolutely no time to sit back and reflect on it. Instead it was off to play sports, so the teachings became ingrained.
At the end of the summer, my friend asked me once again to attend church with him. I no longer saw church as a family activity, so I agreed. At the end of the service, his pastor asked whether anyone was uncertain about whether they were going to heaven. I raised my hand and, again, confessed Jesus as my lord. I felt relieved at the time, though not much really changed.
I then began to read my Bible more carefully. I decided to read it cover to cover. I started, of course, with Genesis, but got bored around the “begats.” So I skipped ahead. The first odd thing I came to after that was Genesis 17:10–11, “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.” Now, sorry to be so personal, but I was never circumcised. So this scared the hell out of me. But somehow, fortunately, I got the idea to research circumcision in the New Testament, which clarified that it was not something that was required for a gentile like me. Thus I didn’t go find a doctor and endure that mutilation, though I just might have had the New Testament not made that strange contradiction.
I also read Exodus 22:16, which says, “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.” At this time, I knew what sex was, and for some reason, this command stuck with me. I had been taught at this camp, or somewhere, that sex before marriage was wrong. But now, at least I thought I had an out—just marry her! Around this time, or maybe a little later, I was actually taught by my parents that it would be okay for me to have sex, so long as I was safe about it. It was around this time that I decided I knew more about Christianity than my parents did, because I knew what the Bible said and they were teaching me contrary to it. I naively believed that they, therefore, had no idea what they were talking about and that I knew how to live life much better than them. If only I had listened to my parents (as the Bible actually commanded me to do—Eph. 6:1).
I had never had a girlfriend before, but in eighth grade, there were two girls I was very interested in. One of them was extremely interested in me and let it be known, the other was also, but she didn’t let on nearly as much. I was shy and extremely afraid of rejection. So although I wanted the one who played hard-to-get more, I asked the other one to be my girlfriend, because she was a sure thing. Of course she said yes, and we started dating. For a long, long time. Now, at VBS, I had made a commitment to remain a virgin until I was married. This girl had other things in mind and put a lot of pressure on me to have sex. I thought that I was in love with her, so I didn’t leave her. I had also learned the Christian virtue of forgiveness, so any time she did something to hurt me (such as kissing another guy, which she did frequently), I thought it was my obligation to forgive her and go on with our relationship. Eventually, I thought that if I had sex with her, that she would stop messing with other guys and would focus on me. And remember my learning of Exodus 22—it wasn’t technically wrong, as long as I married her (in my head). So one night we had sex, and I committed to marrying her, and even told her that. Now I was truly committed to her and our relationship because that was the only way, I believed, I could avoid being sinful. So of course I was even more obligated to forgive her for things she did that wronged me.
I don’t want to bash this girl, because that’s not my intent in this writing. I describe this relationship only to show how committed I was to this strange ideal taught by the Bible. Anyway, she was an absolute bitch to me. She kissed other guys, as I said. She was into experimenting with drugs, which of course I was absolutely against. She did things to psychologically torture me for her own amusement. She would ask strange, awkward questions to, in her words, “see what I would say.” Before we slept together, she asked one of my best friends if he would sleep with her. He told me, but I believed, for whatever reason, that he was making it up and that the girl I “loved” would never do such a thing to me. She also told me once that she wanted to be pregnant at 16, and that she wanted me to be the father. When I asked her why, she said, “Just to piss off my parents.” I certainly didn’t want a kid at that time, so I eased off the sex. That just made the torment from her worse. But of course I couldn’t leave her, that would be sinful, so I stayed. Until, eventually, I decided that even if I was a sinner, I couldn’t take this any more. I read that I was forgiven of my sins, so I broke up with her. That was after almost three years. The kicker is, the other girl I was interested in, I learned throughout that time that she was interested in me. AND she even encouraged me to break up with her to be with her. Had I not believed fully and entirely in this strange command from the Bible, I would not suffer as much regret as I do to this day, because I would have immediately ended the relationship with the weird girl and been with a girl who actually liked me. (I was inspired to tell this story from the XKCD comic titled “Regrets”, No. 458, http://xkcd.com/458).
Fast forward to my senior year of high school. I still believed that the Bible was the absolute word of God. I still wasn’t attending any regular church service. By this time, I had also become “filled with the Spirit” and was speaking in tongues, because I had attended a weekend Bible course that taught me about charismatic stuff. I didn’t believe that most of the churches I tried were “of God” since most churches I went to didn’t believe in the charismatic stuff. One day I prayed that God would show me a church that he wanted me to attend. Soon afterwards, I volunteered at a money drive for a Christian radio station I listened to. There, I met a guy who invited me to attend his church, which was very close to where I lived. Prayer answered, right? And of course, I went to visit the church, which was non-denominational, full gospel, word of faith, charismatic, evangelical, fundamentalist… whatever label you want to attach to it. It was one of *those* churches. And I bought into it fully and whole-heartedly. I went every Sunday to learn more about it. I soaked up their teachings like a sponge, because this church was obviously alive. People would run around during church service, speak in tongues, the whole bit (fortunately no snake passing, people who did that were “misguided”).
I began attending this church right around the time I was deciding on where to go for college. That I had found such a “good” church heavily influenced this decision—I chose the college near my hometown so I could continue attending this church, despite having been accepted to other, better colleges. One of the church’s teachings was on sowing and reaping, that if you give it will be given unto you 100 fold. Well, I gave all the time, and my parents paid for my college in full. Rather than giving credit to my parents for working hard and saving up for my education my entire life, I thanked God for giving me this “blessing.” Sorry, Mom and Dad, you deserved all the credit.
I spent every weekend during college back at home so that I could attend church. EVERY weekend, all through college, I was there. I went to school to be an engineer. I had dreams of participating in all sorts of engineering activities before beginning with the church. One, for example, was the DARPA autonomous vehicle challenge (think cars that are able to drive themselves, no remote control). I thought that would be awesome. Another was the solar car project. Geeky, I know, but it sounded awesome to me, and it would’ve been great experience. But, as a good Christian, I decided that none of that was important. I didn’t need experience, because God would direct the hearts of men and give me a job or whatever I needed because I tithed, I gave, and I did what he told me to do. Just a few weeks ago, I was watching Discovery or something, and saw the finals of the DARPA challenge from this most recent year, and just broke down upon realizing that I never even tried to participate in it.
I finally left the church to attend graduate school. I really wanted to leave the state by this time, but I didn’t want to leave the atmosphere of the church. I talked to my pastor about it, and he gave me the okay to leave, so I went to grad school in an entirely different state. I’m still not certain to this day what I would have done had he said that it wasn’t God’s will for me to leave. He also recommended a church to me that was in the area. Upon arriving, I tried the recommended church. I even joined it. But it was really different. My hometown church had just over 200 people, and I knew pretty much every one of them by name. This new church was a megachurch, with over 2,000 people per service, and the service was held three times. I never really got to know any of them. I was there for about six months before I decided it just really wasn’t for me.
Soon, I heard that some of my close friends from my hometown church had left the church. At that church, leaving was seen as absolutely wrong (hence my fear of what would happen if the pastor said I couldn’t leave.) We were always taught, “Don’t rise up and go, be trained up and sent.” Well, the church saw them as rise-up-and-goers. But I believed that they simply wanted to try a different church. That’s when I began to see behind the veil of the fundamentalist movement. I learned that the pastor had sucked money out of his people for “God-inspired” projects, only to later say that he had “missed God in the timing.” You could get your money back, but only if you could prove exactly how much you had given. That was incredibly hard, seeing as how it was collected in cash almost exclusively. And besides, he had owned up to the mistake and he would put the money to good use elsewhere, right? That’s what the church believed, but I began to see differently. The leaving friends were socially outcast from the church. I learned a lot about their personal research on cults. I don’t believe that I can really call that church a cult in the purest sense of the word, but it definitely has cultish elements.
I had also convinced myself that the teachings of this church were right, over all other ways the Bible could be interpreted. Many of the internal contradictions were elegantly resolved by a simple explanation from the pastor. Upon learning that this church was a fraud, it wasn’t too long before I began to doubt that the Bible was true at all. I began to really think about some of the oddities in the Bible.
For example, back to circumcision. Why is it that God had this be a command in the first place? Why did he create this piece of skin, only to require that it be removed? There is absolutely no medical benefit to this procedure, so why require it? Seems like an odd way to manifest a covenant, especially since only men can participate in it. Doesn’t God love us all equally, men and women alike? God isn’t a respecter of persons, right (Romans 2:11)? And God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, right (Hebrews 13:8)?
For that matter, why is it that God seemed to change so drastically between the Old and New Testament? Lewis Black, the stand-up comedian, addressed this very point humorously, but quite accurately. God in the New Testament is awesome, but God in the Old Testament is spiteful and wrathful, smiting all sorts of people. But how can God be no respecter of persons if the Jews are his “chosen people?” How can a loving God burn people’s houses to the ground?
Other aspects of the law began to bother me. Why is it that God created pigs, but made it his law not to eat them? I convinced myself that there was some medical reason why Jews couldn’t eat pork at the time, like they didn’t know how to prepare it. But a Messianic Jewish friend of mine told me, “Pork is easy to prepare, just like every other piece of meat—put it over a fire until it turns black and eat it!” Yup, that sounds about right. His explanation was that it was required to show obedience to God, but that made no sense to me. Wasn’t the fact that a man had clipped one of his most precious body parts enough of a sign of obedience? And how could God change this sign so drastically, from all these strange rules, to just the one rule of accept Jesus as lord, and you’re done?
Now questions continue to spiral around in my head, none of which have good, clear answers from the Christian perspective. But stepping out of that role, the questions all have a very clear answer. The Bible isn’t the word of an all-knowing God. If we start from that assumption, then it all makes sense. There is a shift in personalities because that’s how different authors of different books at different times perceived this deity. These rules were simply made up to require obedience to other men.
I still don’t know entirely what I believe, except to say that I’m almost entirely sure I’m not a Christian. I say almost because I still have that lingering fear of being wrong. And of course the fear of being wrong brings with it, ultimately, the fear of hell. But, what about hell? I find it most fascinating that the biggest description of why we should fear hell is because it is a place of eternal torment, that is, pain. Medical science has shown, however, that pain is a mental response to a physical stimulation. If we don’t have a body in hell, how are we supposed to feel pain? Once I realized that, I became a lot less scared of it. The arguments for why I don’t want to be there sort of fell apart. The only one left would be eternal separation from God. But I’ve been praying recently, for the past few months, that God reveal himself to me. Whether it be Christianity or some other religion, I have asked for some sign, any sign, that I am supposed to follow God. And I’ve had no answer. So God, I’ve asked, I’ve sought, and I’ve knocked, but there has been no answer, contrary to Matthew 7:7 and Luke 11:9. If one day I am judged and told that I didn’t follow Jesus, I have two responses: a) yes I did, and it brought me nothing but regret, and b) I did exactly what the Bible says in a time of doubt (e.g., James 1:5, I lacked wisdom and I asked for it) but I got no answer. Why does Paul get a major sign of being knocked off his horse and taught the mysteries of God, when I get absolutely nothing, if God is no respecter of persons? Even if I lose some blessing, I want the same right as Timothy, who got to put his fingers into Jesus’s hands and side, if God is no respecter of persons. I’d rather miss out on the “blessing” of those who have not seen (John 20:26–29) than commit myself any further to something that makes so little sense.
I’m not certain whether or not there is a God. I have been studying evolution recently, and find it fascinating. It’s interesting to study it without a preconceived bias that there’s no possible way it’s true. I learned about genetic algorithms in engineering, and, lo and behold, evolution works on a computer model. That didn’t entirely convince me that it could work in biology, but I’m becoming more convinced every day. I’m still interested in the “beginning” and I’m agnostic as to whether it was truly caused by the big bang or by some divine creator. That had always been my major hang-up on evolution; while I could see it as possible once life began, it makes so little sense to me how life can just suddenly start without some other life.
Pascal’s wager was also interesting to me. I read on someone’s testimonial, or somewhere (and I apologize for not being able to give proper credit) that, while Pascal’s wager may be all well and good, why does it necessarily lead to the Christian God? Wouldn’t it apply to every possible deity out there?
There’s much more to my story, many more regrets, but I’ve rambled on long enough. In closing, thank you to everyone who has read this whole story. I’m sorry I rambled on so long. Thank you to those of you brave enough to post your stories as well. Your stories are inspiring and helpful. I’m sorry to my friends and family, especially those of you I abandoned to be at church. I did that often while I was there, and it was absolutely wrong of me. I’m sorry to those of you outside the church who I hurt by condemning you or, even worse, by leading you into Christianity. I’m sorry to those of you who were in the church while I was, who I condemned when you did something that was wrong in the church’s eyes.
Most importantly, to you who are in Christianity, or thinking about entering it, let me tell you that, looking back on my life, almost every regret I have is somehow affiliated with a decision I made based on my beliefs in the Bible and Christianity. Don’t waste away in a church that does nothing but help out its leadership, get out there and do what you want to do, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of another. The founding fathers of America described, succinctly, the rights of an individual as the rights to life, liberty, and property (our past, present, and future), and so long as you respect those rights of everyone around you, you can be a moral person outside of a book that was compiled almost two millennia ago.