Image by » Zitona «  via FlickrI want to take a moment and tell you how truly grateful and inspired I am from the very personal stories shared on this site.When I first left religion I was extremely depressed and lonely. I had considered suicide seriously for the first time in my life. I was in one of the darkest hours of my life ,but, ironically I had faith. After finding this and other similar sites I was warmed and found peace in your different stories. Mostly I realized I wasn't alone. I wasn't crazy and I wasn't being illogical.
Today I am 37 years old and I am happy in a way that I never imagined possible. It is not my physical birthday but instead my "spiritual" birthday. And I am deeply happy because I have seized control of my life and stepped into the light.
I was raised in the Mormon church by my well meaning and generally good parents. From my earliest memory I have spent an average of 25 - 40 hours a month in church in one form or another. I have been to seminary,performed baptisms,given blessings,served in a high calling,been to the temple and in general performed almost every ritual you can imagine in an attempt to "feel" God in my life.
I was taught to live in fear. Fear of punishment, judgment, transgression,but,mostly fear of ARMAGEDDON. I had been lied to by Christianity and all who were most responsible for guiding my growth. Well meaning people perpetuated lies for whatever their individual reason or intention.I was in the "Church of Jesus Christ of LATTER DAY saints".
It wasn't even a question of "Would I see it in my lifetime?" It was a question of "When?" Since I believed The End was inevitable and looming, I decided to forgo college and any attempt at career planning. I drifted from job to job and poor relationship to even poorer. I saw no point in improving my station in life because the Second Coming was right around the corner!
Despite numerous talents and natural charm, and a reasonable amount of intelligence, I managed to piss away 33 of my 37 years just trying to stay stoned so I could deal with the depression and fear as I waited for Judgment Day. I didn't see any point building anything of value, because I wasn't likely good enough to share in any of the post-apocalyptic, terrestrial, Jesus-induced earthly glory He might bring.
You see, at a young age I began to question the things I was taught. I began to ask questions that my parents and leaders couldn't logically answer, like "How could any God command someone to perform Genocide?" Or "How could God ask Abraham to show his loyalty by sacrificing his son in true mafia fashion?" Why Lot would offer up his daughters to the mob of Sodom to be raped? Why are rape, torture, and child molestation not included in the 10 commandments. Pretty big stuff for God to leave out, huh? He made damn sure to cover the no other Gods, and that he's a jealous God.
So, at around 13 years old I found sanctuary in the library. Thank whatever Gods you believe in for the library!! As I grew older I began to study history, science, anthropology, ancient civilizations and religions. I don't have a PHD, but I damn sure guarantee I have done the man hours for one. I was truly, deeply committed to learning the truth at all costs. Hiding it from my parents, I began to visit other religious institutions: Buddhist temples, Hindu teachers, Muslim Imams, Rabbis, Catholic priests... You name it and I have probably spent some time there. None could provide me with the peace I was looking for.
I already had decided that The Book of Mormon was crap and the Bible as well. It all just defied logic and reason. I couldn't see myself believing in their God who had less emotional control than I. Even I overcame jealousy!
I have had some strange and unusual experiences in my life, and at times I would say I have felt a "spiritual tingle" that some may perceive as God. I felt it when I first heard Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture,or the works of Mozart. I felt it when I first saw a galaxy through an observatory telescope. I have felt it when I witnessed the birth of my children and the death of my closest friend. But, I had never experienced the burning baptism of fire inner affirmation the church spoke of. I was depressed and resentful of God for putting so many challenges in my life without giving me the comfort and certainty of this fiery affirmation.
So one day I just snapped. When a man realizes he has screwed up his life because of false beliefs and bad decisions it can be overwhelming. After reading in several different books about how fasting seemed to be a common path to find communion with God I decided enough was enough. I decided I would fast completely until God gave me this blessing of certainty and confirmation. No food, No water, No shit!!!! I went 6 days without food or water. NO joke. All the while food and water easily within reach. I was 100% committed. Out of desperation I was willing to starve myself to death to find the answers.
On day seven I began to really get fuzzy. My body was extremely dehydrated and my brain was starting to slip. I went into my bedroom to lay down and continue to "pray" My wife was seriously and rightfully concerned. She told me that nothing was this important and that I was being crazy.
After I lay down I had an experience I can not explain but wouldn't change for anything.
I slipped into a blackness that was total and yet comforting. I felt aware of something other than myself that I cant describe as anything other than a presence. In a moment I had an awareness of answers that were surprisingly simple.
This thing told me that I was a beautiful example of life in nature.It told me I was beautiful because of my desire for truth and the relentless pursuit of it. It told me that I was worried about technicalities and rituals and not to get lost in those things.
It told me that we are so much more than we can hope to understand in this lifetime. It told me that my doubts were valid but that I would not receive all the answers in this existence but that I should savor the pursuit of the mysteries of life. It told me that my inner energy is eternal but I should savor every moment of this life and worry less about the next.
Now I cant tell you if this "presence" was God, or Astral beings,Aliens, or freaking man-bear-pig. I cant be sure that it wasn't my brains own self preservation or even my subconscious. I can tell you that a huge weight was lifted from me and I finally found peace that night.
I am an optimistic agnostic who enjoys the complexities of life's mysteries and I am working on a degree in psychology so that I may help others who have suffered as I have.
I embrace life's challenges now and I am defining MY FUTURE! I am truly grateful for everyday and the power I have to control my reactions to life. I cant tell you what God is or even if he exists but I can tell you that NO religion has the answers.
We may never know or mean a damn thing. Don't get so busy building a mansion in heaven you neglect your home on earth. I openly and civilly challenge the traditional religions when someone begins to pontificate.
My God is now the great unknown and my religion is the pursuit,application,recording and sharing of KNOWLEDGE. A wise Buddhist told me we are "enlightened" when we realize how much we don't know.
I am so happy and fulfilled now because I can now see a future that isn't preordained and even though the future of mankind sometimes looks bleak I can now take peace knowing I am living in an incredible time in human history and we are on the verge of real knowledge and hopefully enlightenment. Knowledge is exchanged in the blink of an eye and we are becoming one world whether we like it or not.
I will finish with a poem that I wrote that has given me much comfort and clarity and I hope it helps any who may read it.
As daylight fades and twilight approaches,
Swift and steady night soon encroaches,
So seize this moment and contemplate your next,
What will you do with the moments you have left,
For no gravestone could ever eulogize,
The death of great dreams unrealized.
Thank you so much for sharing your stories and please continue to share with all who will listen because you guys saved my life and you may save some one else. From a star-filled Texas town with much happiness and love, yours truly, Shannon Hughes.