De-converted, but still spiritual

by Luna

February 20th 2008 - Hello MoonImage by Stephen Poff via Flickr

My story might be different from others on this site. It hasn't ended in atheism, or even agnosticism, though maybe that to a degree. I'm always willing to learn, anyway. I am now a rather confirmed mystic/pagan type, but my experience with Christianity was a rough one, and I thought I'd share, however it may be received.

I was raised in a pretty lax household religiously, my father only really bothering to take us to the church down the road for major holidays, and whenever he was afraid the marriage was failing. My mother was always pretty liberal, having gay friends, sending me to a gay dance teacher, but she was a huge problem later on (which I'll get to). I was a very imaginative kid, believing in Jesus because that's what Sunday school was about, but also seeing/believing in fairies and that there really was a world where the wild things roamed, and looked forward to seeing it someday. One interesting thing that never changed, however, was that I was most comfortable at prayer when looking at the Moon. That gained more relevance later in my life.

I believe the real harm to my psyche came when a zoning ordinance forced me into a private conservative Christian school (Alabama is messed up - it was either that, or go to one of the most violent schools in the country) for junior high and high school. There, I was somewhat comforted, at first, by the assembly prayers, and how we were "allowed" to talk about God, unlike in those evil public schools. Gradually, however, I learned how the "freedom" was more like expected behavior, and being different, even if you professed a belief in Jesus, was scorned.
I was berated and told I was going to hell for accepting evolution as a viable theory. I was looked at like I had three heads if I mentioned that I doubted that I would ever want to marry, or have children. Apparently, even with all his female followers, Jesus had a very specific idea of what it was to be a woman. I shocked and disgusted a teacher when I said if my dog wasn't going to heaven, I didn't want to go either. He claimed animals didn't have souls. I was mortified, being an environmentalist and animal lover.

So I tried to fit in. I figured my faith was lacking, even if everything in my soul retched and cried out against the misogyny of blaming women for all sin, especially sexual, the denial of my very natural sexual impulses during puberty, the denial of my intellect, of what I KNEW to be true, and the constant criticism of me and my convictions. I was never clean enough to understand, my questions just showed my lack of faith. I hated myself to my very core, and attempted suicide.
That didn't even wake me up to the poison dogma they were feeding me. It took something from outside myself to shake me from my zombie state. A boy, a football player, groped me sexually in the hallway at school. I was training in karate at the time, so I just reacted how I was trained - I kicked the crap out of him. I was the one nearly suspended, if not for the threat of a lawsuit and publicity. I never even got an apology from the guy. He wasn't punished.

That was definitely the push I needed to question what I was taught there. If he was allowed to be "ungodly", and I, the victim, was punished, what good was all this? What good was the school? Why was it deemed MY fault? It made no sense! How could Jesus or God allow this to happen when I was praying every night, very sincerely, to receive the wisdom, the peace that I kept hearing about and longing for? I desperately wanted to be a good Christian, but all I kept getting was dead silence, and people at school, "good Christians" all, being crueler and crueler.
It still took me a couple of years, a copy of "Mer De Noms">Mer De Noms" by A Perfect Circle, and leaving the school for a magnet boarding school to fully leave Christianity. I tried Bahai first, loving their message of full acceptance and love, but still found any Abrahamic faith so stale. I had a friend who then practiced Stregheria (Italian Witchcraft), and asked her about it. Something about it drew me. Something finally felt like slipping into an old, well-worn pair of jeans. I read everything I could get my hands on, until my mother found out. She, for the first time, expressed an interest in my spiritual life. And she was not pleased. Apparently, "Witchcraft" was a hot button for her. She kicked me out of the house when she found my books. She screamed and disowned me.

I should probably mention her oldest friend is the daughter of a Baptist missionary who also sent her reactionary Internet-rumors about Bahai's being into black magic and sacrificing cats and babies. So, we all know she was getting GREAT information about what I was reading. Thanks to her dear friend, my mother saw anything with a pentagram on it, and flipped out. I often wonder how my mother, the same woman who taught me that homosexuals are just people, who took me to see Tibetan Buddhist monks, who spits on Reagan's grave, could have reacted to my choosing an Earth-centric, magical faith in such a way. I will say that she finally got over it, but it took years, during which she did everything to dissuade me from wearing a pentagram necklace without fear. I remember often calling her cross an "execution device." I'm sure that didn't help my stance, but I was angry.

My father's reaction was, strangely, far more reasonable. He did ask if I sacrificed animals, to which I replied "No dad, and I'm still a vegetarian." That was the end of that. He asked nothing else.

I went through several stages of de-conversion. First, I was afraid of leaving Abraham's god totally, but I finally got over that. Then I began to recognize my "hidden pagan self" over time, such as my praying to the Moon instead of at church, as well as my long-time secret belief in fairies and other nature spirits. I had other animistic tendencies as well, not limited to my firm belief that my dog does indeed have a soul (his picture is now in an honored place on my ancestor shrine). I also shortly began having dreams of a long-passed great great grandmother, who I found out, after much milking of my mother for real information, was a medium and a spiritualist. I don't know she was a reason my mother was afraid of "the occult" or not, but I don't push my mother about it much anymore.

I used to be very angry. I still have bouts of anger over the psychic abuse I suffered as a teen in a fundamentalist atmosphere, and feared for my younger sister - I still sometimes do, she is in college now, but I hope she isn't too warped. She seems well-adjusted, which is kind of a miracle, if you'll excuse the expression. Anyway, I've tried to even-out my anger with understanding, try to emulate the compassion, acceptance, and understanding I found in the Goddess. Not to say that She doesn't have her raging side, and there are times when I'm confronted with ignorance from Christians that make me want to go Kali on them, but I just release it all to that aspect. They're not worth going to jail for, in the end.

I'm not advocating my faith in place of Christianity, but I have finally found what works for me. I can honestly say I'm far happier in my path, which has gone far beyond the beginning in Stregheria, though that's where the roots still are. I'm still growing new branches, and they have spread far and wide. I'm also glad to say I'm still growing.

Thanks for letting me put down my journey so far, and I hope it isn't too disjointed. It's far from complete, but I hope it might help others.

The Long Journey of My De-Conversion

by Rita D'Alvarez


Beliefs, personal truths and comprehending the world around us is a life long journey. Where we start may not have any relation to where we finish, and as long as we live the journey continues. I think there are signaling events that trigger decisions which are in turn influenced by countless factors. Am I allowed go where my thoughts lead me? Can I say what I really think? What will those important to me think? Will I be accepted? Am I the only one? How will this effect everything else? Where will this lead to?

I think that, while there are common journeys and similar roads, each of us ultimately walks our own path, one that is solely ours, responding to information, influences, thoughts and inner promptings unique to ourselves. While my journey began in childhood, it was in high school that I began to, as adolescents do, think for myself.

By the time I was in high school life at home was chaotic and deteriorating. Feeling God’s love was a comfort and refuge to me. Although I attended a Catholic high school I’d had enough exposure to other religions to easily cross denominational boundaries. I never thought of God or Truth as limited to any particular church. I listened every Friday and Sat night to Billy Graham’s Hour of Decision and would watch his Crusades on TV. I read his book, World Aflame, and found a purpose and vibrant belief system. Kathryn Kuhlman and Oral Roberts proved God’s miraculous healing power. Robert Schuller manifested His optimism and love.

Looking back, of course World Aflame would appeal to me because MY world was aflame. His urgency and alarm resonated with my own. I was confused, searching and longed for something to depend on. I know now that this longing is a normal part of the human psyche. I felt sorry for those who didn’t have this Relationship and assumed their lives were miserable. Convinced the end of times was imminent because of man’s rebellion against God, I thought about, read, prayed and shared Christ’s message throughout my teens (“Excuse me, are you a Christian?”).

It was as a freshman in high school that I first read the Bible all the way through and was struck by the bloodthirsty and unnecessary brutality of Yahweh and His followers, especially David, who'd been a heroic figure for me. What I read didn’t jive with the loving and merciful God I’d come to know. Nor did the accounts of Jesus match what I’d been taught about Him. So I did what devout people do with such cognitive dissonance–I buried it in rationalizations, excuses, reframing and avoidance.

As I grew older I began to see the hypocrisy, manipulation, fraud and lies. I learned the true history of Catholicism and read Lives of The Saints (many of whom got that title for torturing Protestants). I read Martin Luther’s Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches was a handbook leading to the torture and execution of thousands of innocent women and girls, some as young as three years old). I began looking beyond the limits of Catholic and Protestant churches and, after reading Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography Of A Yogi, started attending SRF (Self Realization Fellowship). During this period I had a religious experience which was to influence and deepen my faith in God for years to come. In my late twenties I joined NSA (Nichiren Shoshu Sokagakkai), the last religious group I would be affiliated with.

Listening to news stories of suffering and cruelty always bothered me. In my youth I trusted God would someday explain all this to me. I was told Yahweh of the Old Testament was merely going along with the corrupt morality of ancient times, suffering was all our fault due to original sin, animal suffering doesn't count because they don't have souls, God doesn’t interfere with our free will and anyway, mere humans can’t possibly presume to know the mind of God (shh---there’s a special secret plan...). I would remind myself that, in the end, all suffering innocents go to Heaven for eternity and forget the pain of what happened to them on earth. Perhaps this was God’s way of testing our faith. As the years rolled by and my comprehension of the magnitude of sorrow and pain in this world matured these excuses and rationalizations were increasingly unsatisfying. How could God, with whom I had a loving relationship and who protected me, allow such terrible things to happen to untold millions of innocent people and animals? The more aware I became the harder it was to reconcile the suffering with my faith. I continued to question ministers about this and the answers were always predictable and inadequate.

Viet Nam, always festering in the back of my mind, was gaining public scrutiny as revelations about what was really going on eroded the propaganda. I was a new mother listening to the radio one day as a veteran was sharing his experience in the war. Intrigued by his story, I wasn’t prepared to hear the description of what one side did to the small child of a village leader in order to terrorize the villagers. Caught off guard and with no time to pull out the usual defenses, the culmination of what I’d pushed away hit me and there was nowhere to run. I literally panicked. That day was the beginning of the end of my “relationship” with a personal god. In her humorous CD, Letting Go of God, Julia Sweeney tells the story of her de-conversion. For her, as with me and so many others, it started with the Bible and ended with The Problem Of Evil. And like her and others, it took work, was absolutely worth it and I’m now even able to look back on my journey with some amusement.

The beginning of my de-conversion was not about doubting the existence of God. It began when He became irrelevant. What kind of deity allows, out of impotence or apathy, innocents to needlessly suffer? There is no excuse. Such a god is unworthy of affection or loyalty. Nor could I expect this deity to protect me and my child from the evils that he allowed to befall others more virtuous than myself. Like letting go of a cherished baby blanket, a hopeless romance or finally leaving home for good, one gets to this point only when one is ready. One has “God” as long as one needs a god. I know many never reach this conclusion. I did and it’s as simple as that.

Letting go of a personal god is a gradual process and not easy. It took ten years to actually break away from a lifetime of Christian conditioning –the idea of sin, redemption, guilt, judgment, atonement, faith, salvation, unworthiness and grace was deeply ingrained. During this period I continued to think of myself as spiritual. I prayed to an impersonal Universe–that amorphous life force which operates on spiritual principals like karma and energy, love and correct thinking. I quit requesting personal favors, only asking help for others or for assistance in helping them. Decades passed and I continued to struggle for answers. On some level I still held out hope for some understanding of why there was so much unnecessary suffering in the world. It eventually came down to this: Universe/God/whatever: we need to talk--DIRECTLY. Not through antiquated scriptures (which are inaccurate, absurd and flawed), inspiration/feelings (which we self generate as needed), not through another middle man-- minister, priest, evangelist, preacher, guru, pastor, avatar, prophet, book, music or religion (been there done that!). Eventually it dawned on me that I had been asking the wrong question all along. Asking “why” assumes a metaphysical reason that only makes sense in a spiritual context. The question of suffering, along with beliefs about my “relationship” with God, were based on assumptions flowing from the world view I was taught that claimed to be objective knowledge about reality. Growing up inculcated with the same propaganda from every source conditioned me to accept what I was taught as truth. Another word for this is brainwashing. Fantasies and delusions are internal, subjective experiences. Reality requires objective evidence. While I may sincerely believe I have a deep and meaningful relationship with a fairy on my shoulder or with Zeus, whom I know created, loves and guides me, I cannot produce objective evidence to verify this. Over time I realized gods are created by humans and not the other way around.

Four unexpected things happened after I released my beliefs about the supernatural. First, I began to see and hear more objectively. Watching reruns of Graham, Roberts, Schuller et al now is like watching a circus act. Their logic is fallacious, their stories (and healings) are contrived and they are masters at cherry picking. Which means they deceive. They pretend. They lie. Today the religious texts and air ways continue to spread this world view claiming it objective information about reality. It still interests me but now as education and entertainment. Currently my favorite religious TV personality is the charming psychopath, Joel (God wants you to be rich) Osteen, and my favorite religious radio personality is the delightfully delusional curmudgeon, Harold (Satan has taken over the churches) Camping. In the trance of religion you see things through a veil that blocks out and protects you from information not fitting the paradigm. This is why religious folk are eager to influence others (reinforcing their own faith) but defend against information and viewpoints unsupportive of their beliefs and why they get defensive and utilize distortion and projection when discussing faith with the faithless.

Second, I gradually felt a burden lift off of me. The conundrum of suffering versus a Just and Loving God dissipated and eventually a feeling of freedom and relief took its place. Far from feeling disconnected in having given up the god my life had revolved around, I now feel more connected to the planet and to all of life on it. Suffering still bothers me, as it probably always will, and I do what I can to alleviate it, but that lifelong struggle with The Problem of Evil is gone. I never knew just how much energy I spent praying, thinking about and trying to reconcile the god I’d “known” with the mounting evidence around me.

Third, I gained a new sense of wonder and appreciation for my life and the natural universe. There’s no theological paradigm against the background of which I must live my life. The idea of coming from this amazing earth and returning to it when I die to complete the cycle and in turn generate future life is a source of solace for me. Rather than being put on a temporal, holideck-like earth to be tempted, measured, tested, repentant, judged and ultimately rewarded or punished, I am home. In the world and of the world, I live in the universe and the universe lives in me. And yes, that is enough.

Fourth, and most recently, I’ve come to see the actual damage religion causes. While all can agree that in the past religion has been responsible for persecution, wars, intolerance, torture, irrational taboos, the impoverishment of the poor, social control by tyrants and the obstruction of scientific advancement, this continues today. The medieval moral crusades against stem cell research, birth control, gay rights, the teaching of evolution and stifling of reason and objectivity are a bane in a free and progressive society. The extremes of these crusades--bombing abortion clinics, assassinating doctors and harassment and killings of gay people, Islamic terrorism, zealots who strive to hasten the apocalypse, have at their core a righteousness forged in religious conviction. Through the veil of religion people can imagine their concerns are moral when in fact they are not. One effect of this is the separation of morality from suffering. Take that symbol of Christian love and charity, Mother Teresa. While stashing billions of dollars in banks worldwide, she allowed people in her facilities to die without needed medicine and care. Rather than a friend of the poor, she was a friend of poverty. She even claimed that suffering was a gift from God. To ensure a steady stream of supplicants she vigorously opposed allowing impoverished women access to birth control, the first step in empowering women and alleviating poverty. Another example is the Catholic church’s fight against the distribution of condoms in Africa and Latin America to stem the spread of AIDS. Warning that condoms have holes in them and spread AIDS, while promoting abstinence as the only prevention, it is responsible for hastening the rapid spread of the virus in these regions. Despite research showing abstinence-only as a prevention method has failed, the church continues it’s deception, more concerned over people’s sexual practices (morality) than the people themselves (suffering). The same emphases on abstinence-only continues in many of our public schools resulting in our having the highest teen birth rate and one of the highest STD rates among teens in the industrialized world. Despite the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, National Association of School Psychologists, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, Society for Adolescent Medicine and American College Health Association all concluding that sexual behavior after puberty is a given and comprehensive sex education is vital to prevent pregnancy and STDs, religion based opposition continues. Again, morality over suffering.

This fourth realization takes the matter of religion, for me, from the personal to the public arena and is why I have decided to write about it. But, religious people protest, those are the extremes. Don’t blame us moderates for those few fanatics who cross the line! The trouble is the line is blurry and keeps changing in response to the power available to whatever religion constitutes the majority. For example, in most of America, the choice to use birth control or not, to be religious or not or to hold hands in public or not is considered a matter of personal choice. Yet in some predominantly Catholic countries people are not allowed the personal choice of birth control. In some predominantly Islamic countries people are not allowed the personal choice of religion. In Mormon controlled Utah, same sex people passing by the temple are not allowed the choice of holding hands. Unchecked, religion will exercise whatever power it can to exert control over the unwilling. Historically, the sheer array of different religions within these United States, along with the Wall of Separation Between Church and State, has kept this tendency within limits, but these limits have been under assault by the nondenominational-ism that has been sweeping our country over the past few decades. This phenomenon wedded to politics and the coordinated efforts of the religiously driven to undermine and misrepresent U S traditions, history and science has manifested itself in what I will call “religion creep” into our institutions, government and personal lives.

The fear of annihilation is universal to all creatures and necessary for survival. It makes sense that we humans, uniquely aware of the finality of death, should long for eternal life. Emancipated from or abandoned by parents, the longing to be taken care of, loved unconditionally and protected by an omnipotent parent is universal. But there is a price for this security. In times of hardship the gods are angry and must be appeased. Animals, children and adults are sacrificed and thus the cycle begins. Neolithic to modern, the dynamics are the same.

We are not sinners. There is no judgment, eternal reward or punishment to frighten us; no supernatural commandments to rule us; no miracles or guardian angel to protect us; no Satan to blame; no redeemer to save us from sins of our ancestors; no ancestral curse to keep us shameful and guilty and no god to appease and make excuses for.

Addict in Recovery

by Lauren

I have been reading stories on this website for about the last month or so and have found immense comfort in the words of people with similar experiences. I have a story to share:

I have spent the last year and a half in the worst depression of my life because of my spontaneous loss of faith. I was raised in a church and joined a pretty liberal one in Seattle -- a church with a strong commitment to social justice and no focus on judgment and sin. I felt like I was in a pretty good place, but even there I'd had ups and downs of not "feeling" god, or having doubts. Fortunately, I wasn't brainwashed in any of the crazy fundamentalist communities I know exist, but I was encouraged to embrace questions, and in a post-modern fashion, critically evaluate Christianity.

So when this current catastrophe started -- feeling numb about God, questioning prayer/the bible, etc. -- I wasn't too worried, because I didn't feel ashamed about these thoughts. I continued to engage the thoughts, feeling very much in a paradox of wanting to remain with this Christian community I loved and with a god I loved, but completely disgusted with the Christian culture and the absurdity of faith. My mentor told me that she questions Christianity almost every day, even though she is on staff with the church. She says she pretty much stays in because the idea of there being "nothing" was so much more disturbing than the kind of god that Christians had invented. (This admission from a pastor!) But even with all of this support and acceptance of my doubts, the doubts continued to burn in me -- to the point where I was getting high to escape the horrible free-falling feeling and utter loss of identity that was swirling in my head. I couldn't shake the feeling that this faith was all a huge lie that people buy into to invent some kind of meaning be where they want it to be -- to feel comfort. But that it was all complete bullshit.

I became so angry at the people around me for believing what they did. That is mostly what has characterized my chucking of the faith-- intense anger that I don't want, but don't have a way out of. I feel like having participated in this huge delusion my whole life, and giving everything I had to it, is just cause to be angry. I left the community for awhile, but was extremely depressed, feeling life my life had been shredded apart, that the foundation that I had been told was "rock solid" had up and dissolved under me. I went back to this church for awhile earlier this fall, because I thought maybe my mentor was right -- that there wasn't anything "better" than Christianity. So, I thought I might as well suck it up and try to reconcile this relationship I had with god -- who I also felt/feel a bizarre paradox of believing in, but really not, at the same time.

It worked for a while to just try to enjoy my friends in the community, but the questions just started getting more intense in my head. What the fuck god was doing while people are suffering? Where the fuck god was when I was suffering trying to believe in him again? But I got nothing, and like I said, constantly had to get high to relieve the anger and depression. I decided that even if there was nothing better, I couldn't remain around a god that wouldn't rescue me, or relieve the insane magnitude of suffering around the world. What the fuck is he waiting for to "redeem" everything? It just seems so cruel to hang that possibility over people's heads -- that god can save people from their shitty situations, but for whatever reason "We don't get to know..." (or some bullshit about timing) . All I know is that he's not doing enough for me to stick around.

I would make up my mind to leave, but once I did, for about a week or even less, my rage would calm down a little, and these questions would end up not seeming like such a big deal. This started an emotional-frying cycle of addiction to the idea of "fixing" my faith- or working things out enough so I could still function in the church. It was back and forth for so long, always leaving me an emotional wreck. But about a month ago, I think something changed, somehow, and I really feel like I won't go back. It was such a self-destructive process and it's scary to think about how much power I gave to this idea of god that was sold to me.

This was all pretty recent. I still meet with my mentor because she is a huge part of my life, and is the one who basically told me to finally leave. She understood where I was coming from and sees that all of these raging questions and doubts are seriously getting in the way of my own wellness. It was really hard, once again, facing this new journey into territory I have no idea about, but in the last couple of weeks, my emotions have evened out a little (partially from better medication...), and I'm starting to feel like I can press on without Christianity. I can't believe how dependent that shit makes you. I am going to make sure I never get that addicted to something again. It scares me to think about how empty and hopeless I felt when my faith collapsed, and I wasn't even in a crazy horrible Right-Wing church. I can't imagine coming out of that. Props to those of you who have.

Thanks for reading this- I'd love to hear if people have had similar experiences emotionally, or any comments you have about my story.

There and Back Again: My 30-year lapse from atheism

by Oddbird1963

People who are familiar with my family often say that I look a lot like my late father. I may have received my appearance from my dad, but I also received a love of science and history from him. Thanks to my father's thirst for knowledge we always had a recent copy of Scientific American, National Geographic, Science News, Science Digest and Popular Science lying around. I would read them, look at pictures, read the captions and soak in anything that seemed interesting to me.

I am not a scientist or a mathematician but I certainly have a love for science, and layperson’s explanations of cosmology, physics and evolutionary biology. Such things inspire me when presented credibly and creatively. Good job Dad!

When I was growing up our house was not a religious household. We only had occasional encounters with friends’ churches, my maternal grandmother's church and then the pious ramblings of my paternal grandfather about God, faith, and religion. And then there was the dreaded Vacation Bible Schools. A week of being uncomfortable about my behavior and what I said without really knowing why. My mom used these to get us out of the house so she could have some peace and quiet.

I must have absorbed some of the “sacred” attitudes about the Christian religion along with my occasional exposure to things related to the church. The experience of realizing I was an atheist (the first time) makes that clear enough.

I always loved it when one of our magazines would feature a story, hopefully with glossy photos and artists’ renderings, about dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, saber tooth tigers and primitive humans. I found it so fascinating to imagine what it would have been like to have lived among such creatures! Admittedly, I still do! I was extremely chagrined, therefore, when after telling some classmates about some new article I read about an ape-like creature that later evolved into a human, I was sternly rebuked by my so-called “friends” who seemed outraged at what I said. Apparently, I shouldn’t have been reading such false reports and theories because the world was made in only 7 days. Adam and Eve were the first humans and they did NOT evolve from apes. That’s what God says, because it’s in the Bible!

“Wow!” I thought to myself one night, while watching the stars from my front yard. “I really think what those magazines tell me is true. I just don’t think much of what those kids at school told me. I guess I just don’t believe in God.” At that admission to myself, I got the coldest chill in my body. My head started to tingle with a cold, sharp sensation. (Lest any Christians start to post that this must have been the Holy Spirit convicting me or something, I got the same feeling when I later converted to Christianity and then a few years later when I decided to rededicate my life to the Christian faith). It was the way I have felt before when I have been shocked with bad news or caught doing something wrong. In this case, I believe it was the realization that I was standing apart from my peers. I was receiving a kick in the ass from one of the strongest influences that I believe keeps people trapped in religion: social conditioning.

This realization must have occurred when I was 11 or 12. I didn’t even know what an atheist was at the time. I didn’t really consider myself an atheist even after having read comments from Isaac Asimov on his short stories which I used to love to read. I just didn’t believe in God. I believed in the discoveries of science as well as Bigfoot, UFO’s and even Eric Von Daniken’s “Chariots of the gods.” Hey! Don’t be hard on me. I was just a kid!

I kept quiet about being a junior atheist. I guess mu social instincts weren’t totally dead. I occasionally had to endure hearing the beliefs of my classmates in bits and pieces. I never really comprehended what was the big deal over Jesus. All Jesus was to me was that old timey looking picture hanging in my maternal grandmother’s bedroom. It was a name that was brought up around Christmas time with the adjective “baby” in front of it. But I knew enough not to go around saying, “I don’t believe in God.” The social shaming would be too strong.

This fact was driven home to me one day in the June after my 7th grade year at school. My younger cousin said to me, “Did you know there’s people who don’t believe in God?” At her words I got that stinging cold sensation again – like I was in danger of being found out. “Where did that come from?” I asked myself. Trying not to show my fear of being exposed as an atheist, I responded with a nonchalant , “Yeah.”

One year later, though, the pull of social forces would see me make a change that would take me in a whole new direction. At the age of 14, a classmate invited me to her Vacation Bible School (VBS). It was a lot of the same as with VBS experiences in the past. Arts, crafts, disjointed unconnected glimpses of the world of religion, not feeling part of things, but making the best of it anyway.

On the last night of VBS, one of the bible teachers from that week asked me, “When were you saved?” I told her I didn’t know what that means. Pretty soon Mrs. Margaret had swept me away to the “fellowship hall” and had begun explaining the gospel story to me. It was the first time I had heard the story in a complete narrative thatched together with scripture references that she showed me from her earmarked King James Bible. Later that night, I “received” Jesus as my savior ( a.k.a. “got saved,” “converted,” “born again”).

I used to look back fondly on that whole experience and love Mrs. Margaret for seizing upon the opportunity to ask me and then taking the time to “witness” to me. Now, looking back, that sentiment has shifted to, “I guess I don’t hate her. She was doing what she thought was right.”

The church I was baptized in and received my first indoctrination as a Christian was as fundamentalist as they come. It was a Landmark Missionary Baptist church. They believed this crazy, unsupportable doctrine that they were the “one true church” because of a supposed unbroken line of “true” churches tracing a lineage all the way back to Jesus.

The sign by the highway on the church lawn also said, “Fundamentalist Pre-tribulation Pre-millennial” Many of the leaders of the church believed that the laws against segregation and discrimination were unbiblical. In other words, slavery and prohibitions against interracial marriage were all biblical concepts that were not wrong in the bible god’s eyes. I actually had a deacon from the church tell me that most slaves in the south didn’t have it so bad because they were well treated and they had the opportunity to hear the gospel.

Among all these culturally influenced beliefs I also learned what could be described as the traditional fundamentalist Baptist doctrines:
  1. Salvation by Grace through faith.
  2. Primacy, inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.
  3. Baptism of the converted through immersion.
  4. Eternal Security
  5. And much, much more.

This was a time of learning, reading and so-called growth in the Christian faith.

Of course there was still crazy stuff. There were always conferences and revivals where the second coming of Christ was expounded upon with more certainty and detail than a person should be able to have. There were lectures on why it is that we know dinosaurs existed alongside humans prior to the flood. How do we know this? Dinosaurs are in the Bible and they burp methane gas and that makes them breath flames!

For the next three years I sat under the tutelage of missionary Baptist teachers of one sort or another. I had a period of three or four years from my senior year in high school through my junior year of college where I didn’t go to church much. I became discouraged by the lack of a “God-factor” in the lives of the people around me. It all seemed a joke. Yet, I held on to my basic Baptist doctrine and faith.

In my senior year of college I experienced a sort of “revival,” a renewal of my dedication to the God idea. I was once again imbued with a desire to study and learn all aspects of the bible and Christian doctrine. I desired the “personal relationship” which my particular brand of evangelicalism taught.

Eventually I felt what I believed was a “call” to become a preacher. I finished out my college degree and was married that summer. After about a year of marriage we stepped out on faith and moved to Texas for me to begin attending seminary and receive the education and training to be a minister.

During my time in seminary, my faith was intact. I did have to adjust my thinking on the Old Testament Book of Genesis. I came to the conclusion that Genesis 1-11 just had to be interpreted as mythological in nature. A literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 just seemed so untenable given what we know about science, history and archeology. Other explanations such as the age-day theory that try to force-fit what we know into the biblical narrative are equally untenable and problematic. My approach was to not try to debunk evolution and not try to dovetail scientific knowledge into the biblical accounts. My approach was to proclaim the meaning of the text, not push for the literalness of the text. The rest of the Bible, I tried to interpret more or less literally. So, I remained a conservative Christian with those accompanying adjustments in my world view.

I graduated from seminary in full expectation of finding a church. I was fully ready to serve God full time as pastor or assistant pastor of some church somewhere. I was just going to focus on proclaiming the word and trust God take care of me and my family (Yeah. I was a bit naïve).

I had two very short pastorates. I left the second one intending to find a bi-vocational type ministry. I was still a fundamentalist Christian at that time. But I had a lot of question marks hanging over my head.

There are a number of factors that “drained” my faith and eventually caused my faculty of reason to develop new, non-theist positions. What follows is an attempt to identify the more significant factors.
  1. Where’s the God-Factor? I spent too much time making excuses for the behavior of God’s people. Too many times I saw that what happens with the Church can be explained more in terms of personal psychology, organizational psychology, sociology and economics - not by the transforming activity of the Holy Spirit. I concluded that, despite the best intentions of many of “God’s” people, the lives of “His” people just do not provide sufficient reason to believe “He” is there.
  2. Where’s the need for a God? Science does not provide a complete view of reality, but it explains more than faith, religion or a creationist interpretation of scripture ever did. There seems to be no need for a God (big “G” or little “g”) to explain reality as it relates to origins. While science does reach a limit where an uncaused Cause appears plausible, the choice between “God” as the uncaused Cause and an uncaused Universe does not tilt in favor of God. Nor does a belief in God as the uncaused Cause necessarily lead to some version of God portrayed in the Old Testament, the New Testament or any other form scriptures.
  3. Where’s the evidence for God? Despite more than a decade of praying for wisdom, guidance, transformation and personal prosperity with an honest and sincere heart, nothing happened inside or outside of me that can conclusively be pointed to as God’s intervention or involvement. Good things have happened to me. A few bad things have happened to me. But nothing really has happened objectively or subjectively to say that God is involved in the little slice of the world known as my life.
  4. Where’s the presence of God? I finally quit praying for things and simply began to ask God to communicate with me in some way that would be clear to me. I so wanted to know God, but nothing happened subjectively to lead me to believe God was showing Himself to me.

It took about ten years to process everything and determine that the god of the fundamentalists does not exist and that there is no credible evidence that any god exists.

As I faithfully served and committed myself to humble, passionate prayer and ministry, my family languished in dire financial circumstances.

It seems that the more I relied on the Christian god, the worse things got. My story is the story churches don't talk about. My story is not an intellectual journey that leads to the abandonment of faith. It is an experiential journey that spanned more than thirty years. Mine is the account of what they don’t talk about when they tell you to “trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Mine is the "true story" that dwells in the shadows of the church with the champions of confirmation bias receiving all the press.

Eventually I came to my senses and realized there is no god to rely on and faith is not rewarded by an all-powerful, all-knowing loving god. I too became free of the superstition of theism and the mental delusions of religion.

Troll Prevention

One time, in a blog on another website, I posted the above reasons for losing my Christian faith. A Christian apologist asked me a question about why I thought I had a right to ask God for the things I did. Here is what I told the PhD. I think my response to the two ways he asked the question reflects an adequate response for de-converts who have to put up with questions about their sincerity or the adequacy of their expectations in prayer.

What right do you have to make such a request?

As a conservative evangelical Christian, I believed and I taught that faith in Christ brought believers into a personal relationship with Christ.

According to Evangelical theology, through the redemption that God grants through faith in Christ, the believer is able to freely approach God as a loving Father. As a believer, I was taught and I believed in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, thus making a personal, subjective experience with the living Christ possible:
Romans 8:9: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”
1 Corinthians 2:12-13,16: We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words . . . we have the mind of Christ.

We are told in James 1:5 that we should ask for wisdom and that God will grant it:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Of course there is a condition attached to this verse. I can always be accused having doubt. I can only say that when I asked I asked in good faith, believing that God was there and that he rewarded those who earnestly sought him.
We are also told in Philippians that we can make requests of God.
Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Matthew 7:7-8 - "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

In those times, I believed we were granted the right to make requests by a loving, all powerful God and that those rights were affirmed in His scripture
What right do we have to make such a demand?

I believe the “right” is covered above. The word demand seems a bit strong. First, many times I did not appeal to God dispassionately. Often I was experiencing great inner turmoil, confusion and indecision. By the time I quit asking for things I was pleading, like a dehydrated man being refused a cup of water. I don’t believe there was anything wrong with my attitude for the most part, so “demand” would not be a general description of my approach in prayer. I don’t believe “demand” in terms of an unfair entitlement to and drain of God’s resources is accurate either. A child can “demand” too much attention from a school teacher or a parent. But I don’t think my asking for wisdom, transformation, direction or a manifestation of His presence drains any of the resources of a “God” who is described as powerful, limitless, loving and faithful.

No, the right words to use might be “ask,” request,” or even “plead.” But demand? It seems too strong to reflect my actual attitude, for the most part, when I believed I was approaching God.

Long road out

Sent in by Anonymous

We all walk the long road...Image by a hundred visions and revisions via Flickr

I was born into a Christian home, my parents both having been raised in the faith, as Baptists. At the time of my birth, in the 1960's, they attended a large non-denominational evangelical church in the Northeast where I was baptized by the pastor, one of the founders of the Neo-Evangelical movement in the 1940's. Neo-Evangelicalism, while supporting fundamentalist doctrines, distanced itself from fundamentalism's anti-intellectual, anti-cultural bent. It was in this church that I was raised, up until around the time I graduated from high school.

Growing up, we always attended church on Sunday. I remember hours of boredom during Sunday morning services, not having the attention span to listen to a 45 minute to one hour-long sermon. The music was also less than inspiring with it's “old-time religion” hymns. (They have since moved on the “contemporary Christian” music.) I hated going. Despite this, during my time in both Sunday School and Youth Group, I developed both a solid understanding of the Bible and a personal faith in Jesus as my Savior.

My childhood was full of anxiety. It was not that my parents laid the guilt of their faith on thick, although there were times, but I think the constant reinforcement of Christian doctrine week-on-week, year-after-year, in Sunday School took a toll. I remember many times feeling I had been a failure. For several reasons, I was never a good student, but I attributed this laziness; the sin of sloth. The typical sexual awakening of youth I experienced filled me with shame; the sin of lust. I remember having several “come to Jesus” moments, breaking down, asking for forgiveness, feeling cleansed and renewed, only to find myself some days or weeks later wallowing in the same guilt and self-pity.

I drifted away after High School. Flunking out of college, I found a job and began my first career. Although I did not attend church regularly, I still believed in God and Christ, the indoctrination of my childhood running deep in my psyche. This time of my life was hard, having little money and relationship troubles with a girlfriend, I might have been in a position to start questioning my beliefs, however I fell in with a bunch of street preachers in the city and experienced a renewal of my faith. This lead me to quit my job and go back to college, choosing a evangelical Christian school founded by the pastor, now deceased, who had baptized me.

Still a poor student, I was again not prepared for the rigors of college life, and I spent a few years struggling academically before taking a job at the same school I was attending. I still had what I would consider a strong faith and saw everything that happened to me as God's providence. I met a nice Christian woman, and we married. After she graduated, I continued my new career at another local university, and we began a family.

I'm not exactly sure when I began to question my faith, the process of de-conversion for me was slow. Neo-Evangelicalism places some emphasis on not abandoning reason in matters of faith, and I think that provided me with an opportunity to question my beliefs that I might not have had if I had been brought up in a more fundamentalist denomination. Sometime over the past four years, I began to question what I believed and why I believed. One of the major catalysts for this was the attitudes of my fellow church goers towards the gay and lesbian community. My work put me in contact with a large number of gay people who weren't the degenerates that they were made out to be by my fellow churchgoers. I couldn't reconcile what my church proclaimed as the official doctrine on the matter with what I believed was the message of the gospels. As a result, on Sunday mornings, I left my wife and family to attend services at a more liberal church. I made no big deal about this. Few people knew, at the time, and they believed it was more for reasons of worship style than doctrine.

My experience as a liberal Christian allowed me to explore further and deeper what I believed. I read the Bible. Of course, I had read it before, but this time I read with a critical eye. I explored alternative viewpoints as to the origin of scripture and its meaning. One watershed weekend, around two years ago, I read Robert M. Price's, The Reason Driven Life. By the time I finished and put the book down, I knew I no longer believed.

I have mixed emotions when I think back on my life and am equally conflicted when it comes to how I should handle the future. I am glad I had the Christian upbringing that I did from a moral perspective. My parents are good people, and treated me well despite my failings. I realize that being a good person and treating people well is not exclusive to Christianity, and I'm well aware of the hypocrisy of some believers. However, I can't help but feel that religion's codes of conduct provided me with a level set of expectations on how to treat other people and expect to be treated by them. I sure could have done without all that guilt, but mostly I regret all the time I've wasted waiting for direction from above on what I should be doing, rather than making my own way in the world.

The only one who knows that I've given up the faith is my wife. She still believes and attends church with the children. I go, on and off. I am fortunate that this has not really affected our relationship or our love for each other. She accepts me for who I am and respects what I believe. I am not sure how my parents or in-laws would react if they found out. I know at least some of them would be extremely burdened and it would change our relationship. I have no desire to cause them pain and don't intend to let them know.

My children also don't know. They have grown up a church very similar to the one I grew up in. They attend Sunday School and Youth Group. They are good kids and have a good set of friends and values. I do want them to know, someday, what I believe, but at this stage in life, I think it might only confuse them. I do try to steer them from rigid thinking and encourage them to be open minded. I think they'll turn out okay.

Thanks for letting me tell my story.

Keeping the Faith

by Janus Grayden

For most of us who left religion, the schism wasn't a swift knife stroke but a slow, and oftentimes painful, process. This is especially true for those whose entire lives were completely entangled with their faith.

If you've ever had the misfortune of crossing paths with a prickly pear cactus, you know that the large, obvious spines are the least of your worries. It's always the minuscule, nearly invisible barbs that drive you insane, poking you even after you were absolutely certain that you had plucked them all out. With no malice intended, this was my deconversion experience.

When all of your friends, mentors, and close family are deeply religious, there is always more to religion than Sunday morning. The church I attended stressed an active involvement in almost daily activities. Without exaggeration, my life was completely involved in Christianity. So, when depression took a stranglehold on my life and, for years, no amount of prayer or any piece of advice slowed my downward spiral, questioning naturally followed.

However, as completely wrapped up in Christianity as I was, the existence of God and the fallibility of the majority of my faith was not up for dispute, in my mind. Instead, life took a much darker approach. God was sadistic and cruel, demanding that I pay a penance for being human in order to be worth His love. In short, a literal, well-versed knowledge of the Bible, unyielding adherence to faith and rampant depression led me to Maltheism.

If the idea that an omnipotent and omniscient being demands your suffering for appeasement sounds horrifying and utterly unhealthy, then you can appreciate what little favors faith did for me. I couldn't understand the passages about how God was supposed to be loving and kind while, at the same time, condemning almost everyone who ever has and ever will exist to eternal torment. The fact that it all seemed like the whims of a malevolent deity only served to drive me deeper into my ennui and sense of helplessness.

Therefore, when enough had finally become enough and I stopped praying and started working towards my own stability, things slowly began to improve. In the face of what I had been fed as a kid, life as an atheist didn't gravitate towards nihilism and hopelessness. I had been through that already and it was faith that held me prisoner. Truly, it was the large, obvious thorn that had wounded me.

Little bit by little bit, I sloughed off my faith and regained my sense of self-empowerment and capability. Of course, it's the small barbs that are the most persistent. Losing my faith was relatively easy. Coming to learn that faith is a wonderful thing took time and there were a great deal of obstacles.

Losing that kind of trust all at once shattered my ability to deal with people. Luckily, I was able to make friends who were patient with me as I came to know that faith isn't a monopoly held by religion. Losing my faith in a construct designed to hold me captive by my guilt and fears led me to have a renewed faith in myself and in the people I'm fortunate to be close to. Instead of centering my life around God and obediently believing that everything will fall into place around that faith, I've put my trust into being happy with the short time I'm lucky enough to have on this rock hurtling through space.

Still Trying to Escape

by Ant

I am 24 years old...

I became a Christian during the early part of my junior year of high school after a close friend of mine, a neighbor, witnessed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to me incessantly over weeks spent playing basketball out in the street. Eventually, I let the jargon sink in, and decided I wanted to be a Christian. Big mistake.

After a year of being a babe in Christ, attending several different churches with everyone I knew who was a Bible thumper, I went on a seemingly innocent vacation with my father and sisters. When I arrived home a week later, I was bedridden with the flu. It was during this time that I conveniently read the chapter in Matthew about the unpardonable sin. I began questioning whether I'd committed this sin and done eternal, irreparable harm to myself. And thus began a nine-month tailspin of anxiety, sleepless nights, and unrelenting fear. I rarely found a moment of respite from this crippling dread, and, somehow, I was able to hide my inner turmoil from those around me. But I could only go on for so long.

Luckily, I moved to college during the ensuing fall, and through the beauty of new surroundings, fresh faces and the opportunity to finally forge my own path, I began to slightly drift away from my Christian faith. I still loosely followed the moral Christian codes that I'd adhered to over the last year (I didn't drink an ounce of alcohol, in fact, never have in my life, nor did I participate in any lewd and lascivious activities), but prayer and church going became non-existent. I finally regained my sanity and started living a normal life. I didn't blame Christianity for those fateful nine months, I just thought I had done my part as a Christian incorrectly, but a survival instinct helped me put my Christian beliefs on the back burner.

The good times would not last long enough. During the fall semester of my junior year, rumors began swirling that an avian flu epidemic was imminent, and like clockwork, my first though was about god and my eternal resting place should I be stricken with this disease and suffer death because of it. Without hesitation, I feared that I was destined to spend eternity in hell, so I prayed, hoping that my latest show of piety would put me back in god's good graces. Within the week, I sought out an on campus Christian Club, and as luck would have it, the leader of the organization was the son of a pastor at a local non-denominational church just a few miles from the campus.

Like a moth to the flame, I quickly became indoctrinated with their belief system, and soaked it in completely. I attended church weekly, without fail, participated in bible studies sometimes twice a week, and engaged in what was called an accountability group, whereby I and other Christians would recount our sinfulness to one and other, in a desperate measure to try and change our own human nature. Never seemed to work, but we all reveled in our sanctimonious practices. Needless to say, I was once again part of the system, and seemingly on my way to an eternity of ultimate joy and fellowship with my creator.

But the fears crept back in. Slowly at first, but eventually became as violent and tumultuous as they once were. My fears canvassed a wide range of issues. During the first few stages, the fear was mainly centered around my own belief that I was headed to hell for either not following god correctly, or because I was following the wrong god the entire time. But, that fear was always based on a contingency, a possibility, not a definite. My fate always hung in the balance, but it could be that one day I would be in heaven. The theology I had been taught (reformed Calvinism) confirmed that god had predestined many souls to be with him for all eternity, and my Christian brothers kept assuring me that I belonged to this select class of god's elect. Unfortunately, due to my intense study and insatiable thirst for knowledge, I was led to a far greater illustration of just how terrifying this "benevolent" god could be.

One day, while laying in bed, it hit me that according to my ideology and the overarching theology of most of Christendom, while it is possible for the individual to accept Christ and secure their place in heaven, the Scriptures all but ensure us that the vast majority of mankind will never experience the sweet repose of heaven, but would suffer forever, consciously and despondently in the wasteland of hell. No longer was it only fear that encompassed me, but a sort of nauseating emptiness in the most inner reaches of what I thought was my soul. I suddenly had the unenviable position of either rejecting god and accepting the terrible fate of hell pr resigning myself to a life worshiping a monster who would create millions of creatures, only to consign the vast majority to a fate that is literally unbelievable. That god could send billions of people to hell, and still demand worship was unthinkable, and it caused me more anguish than I've ever known. I had hit rock bottom.

I must point out that my thespian skills were still on full display, as I was able to feign normalcy once again for almost two years. Although I spent countless nights at bible studies and care-group meetings while deeply entrenched in these mental and psychological horrors, none of my church-mates were the wiser. It was actually quite amazing the things I did while giving nearly all of my mental acuity to rationalizing my fears and trying to convince myself that there was no way my preconceived notions of god's goodness could be that skewed; that the ultimate expression of good manifested itself by torturing feeble and fragile human beings throughout all eternity, all because his holiness, a measure to which fallible creatures could never innately live up to had been breached by our actions. No matter my attempts, I never found peace, and the maelstrem continually intensified.

Eventually, one thought began to nestle itself in alongside the constant theological debate going on in my head. The worst thought I'd ever thought, and the one thought everyone hopes will never enter their minds. I began contemplating suicide. I could not go on living like this anymore. Nothing temporal mattered to me anymore, and the vicissitudes of life seemed trivial. All I knew was the fear. The mind numbing, pulse-pounding dread that robbed me of my life for nearly three years. After about three weeks of these suicidal thoughts, I took action and began systematically detaching myself from the church (which, at the time, was basically the only life I knew; yes, I was that engrossed). All of my friends were Christians, and due to the alienation I had caused towards my family because of my holy lifestyle and damning "Good News Gospel" message, leaving these people would be to separate myself from everything and everyone. For as much as I detested their message and their god, I genuinely did, and to this day, do have an affection for them. But, for the sake of my sanity, and frankly, my life, I had to get out.

(My actual ex-filtration is a bit longer and convoluted than it appears here, but for the sake of some semblance of brevity, I'll get right to the point.)

Of course, the now ex-church-mates wouldn't let me go easily, and many of them spent the waning days of my "Christianity" pleading with me to come back, telling me that I was now a pawn of Satan and admitting that they were participating in church wide prayer meetings focused solely on my apostasy. Tears were shed and extremely long e-mails were sent (kind of like this testimonial...) from those expressing their dismay over my decision. In fact some believe so fervently in this doctrine of predestination, that they are fully expecting my eventual return to the faith. If they only knew....

It has been almost two years since my departure, and yet I still find myself consumed by this doctrine of hate and fear mongering. Although, I still have intermittent contact with those from the old church, I have found myself irreparably disconnecting myself from some of them, as I have been badgering their beliefs on open public forums in an effort to demean their belief system and maybe give them a window into the heartbreak that I've felt.

Although I no longer fear hell, nor do I fear for the fates of those around me, having had my worldview completely shattered twice over the past five years has left my psyche in shambles. I regularly slip in and out of depressed states, and have adopted an extremely cynical outlook on life, often times bordering on nihilism and stoicism. Given that I was a Christian during the formative days of my youth, and have since been a mental wreck, I've never been involved in a romantic relationship, and have only two people that I truly consider friends (one of them is as screwed up as I, although for wholly different reasons). My current personality and severe neuroses preclude me from pursuing such a relationship, whether intimate or friendly.

The suicidal thoughts have crept back in, not because of inexorable fear anymore, but because I feel that there is nothing to live for. I have a disdain for mankind now, for harboring this religion throughout our sociological evolution, and I am quickly becoming something of a misanthrope, which is diametrically opposed to my once affable and jolly nature. Oh, how long ago that was. Now, I am just bitter. My anger towards what religion has turned me into, and how it has ruined my life cannot be quelled, and every step I take in the right direction, several steps opposing it follow.

So, here I am, two years removed from the bonds of religious dogma, yet still trying to escape...

Still on the fence

by Michael

Sitting on the FenceImage by Jonathan Gill via Flickr

I guess one could call me a de-converting Christian. I am still a little on the fence, but leaning towards the non-Christian side. My story is something of a mystery even to me.

I was raised in a Christian home, with Christians of various stripes and zealousness. I followed in their footsteps for the longest time, being a creationist and the like. But one day I was at a public library searching for videos on atheism for the sake of learning how to argue against it. By luck I discovered a video of a Christopher Hitchens' lecture on his book. Lets just say the surprise was mind blowing. It didn't de-convert me, obviously, but it got my mind thinking: What if there was more to what I believed, what I knew, and what I was told about? I checked out his book, and started to read it. It made me question my beliefs, particularly in regards to Creationism, and it showed what my belief system can do to me in a way I had never seen.

I soon realized that I couldn't believe in the stuff anymore. I soon had a problem though, since I had never been quite able to not wear my heart on my sleeve. It was talking to my grandmother, and I exclaimed that I wasn't sure what to believe anymore. (I found it is good policy to be a pragmatist in talking about things like this.) Well, in short, she made me question again, so I gave religion another shot, though I continued to do research. I found my new Hitchens inspired convictions to be sound. But then I found what I much later determined to be a crock of a book: Why I Believe by D. James Kennedy. It brought me back into the fold.

As I continued to research and think, I flirted with de-conversion again. This time I grew more certain in my convictions because of the fact that I thought that the bible wasn't historically accurate (again thanks to Hitchens' book). I soon became a bit aggressive about what I thought, and acted as such. It ultimately culminated in a discussion with a pastor. In the emotional state I was in (due to getting into an argument with my Grandmother of all things), the pastor was able to beat my arguments against Christianity. (The arguments wouldn't have been all that good if I had been in a less emotional state of mind, I realize in hindsight.) So, I decided to make a serious attempt at being a Christian. I started looking more at apologetics and it only reinforced the conclusion that the Bible wasn't historically inaccurate. Then I took a break from in-depth study of this and thought more about the theology of the Bible and how it worked. Let just say that I became a moderate in regards to Christianity. I was still in support of stem cell research, and I believed that people's decisions should be left to the individual.

In the fall of this year I started taking a class in the anthropological development of religion. I was curious about how religions developed. One of the things I learned is that to truly understand belief systems you have to be as completely objective as possible.

Soon I started to take a look a Christianity. I started to apply the concepts I was learning. I also got up enough guts to think about the Bible in my own way, not using the standard Christian norms. What got me where I am today is realizing that the typical apologetic argument for the Bible is sound within itself, but it leaves out too many important details. Like, what was the culture around them like? What are the other kinds of possibilities other then what is in the Bible that could have influenced the apostles behavior? Also in general concept, what could have happened that was not mentioned in the Bible to influence its conclusion? And to me, as far as I know, these questions have not been well examined by apologetics.

In many ways I have found answers. For one, the factors (cultural theological, and otherwise) that could have influenced the apostles are numerous, and easily could be something other than the Bible. I also started to examine (from an alien perspective as AC Grayling would put it) the ethics taught in the bible. I found that the moral codes particular to Christianity (not just general things like shall not murder), and realized that these are maladaptive codes of behavior that only really work in that culture well.

But still many questions remain and I would like responses.
  1. What possible reasons could have Christians had to make a up a empty tomb story?
  2. Why could no one find the body of Jesus?
  3. What could explain the appearances of Jesus to the apostles?
  4. How could have legend developed so quickly after Jesus died, that what was written in the gospels could not have been at least generally accurate?

Based on my personal research, I have concluded that Jesus existed and taught, was not well liked by the establishment and died. I welcome criticism on those points.

I guess I am caught in a contradiction right now. It would be nice to have some certainty.

One year on...

Sent in by Candace

School of Art, Media and DesignImage by teddy-rised via Flickr

Hi guys, about a year ago (possibly longer, I can't really remember) I was on the verge of leaving Christianity, but still struggling a bit because of how involved I was with my ex-church (it wasn't even my church, it was my friend's church and she dragged me into it) and my lack of anything else in my life that was even vaguely fulfilling.

I posted a testimonial here titled "Looking for Answers." Well, it's been a year and I just thought I'd update you guys on what I've been up to. It's not really a testimonial as such but I didn't know where else to put it (moderator: feel free to do with this post as you wish).

Anyway, as I said, a large part of the reason I joined my friend's church, and Christianity, in the first place, was because of a lack of anything fulfilling in my life at that point. I had just left a long-term relationship that had been going nowhere and I was still trying to get over my ex. Plus, I was in the middle of a combined law degree that seemed to stretch on interminably with no end in sight. So I was in a bit of a rut and Christianity just filled the void, if only temporarily. I always knew it was only a band-aid solution and I'd have to get out and find whatever it was that fulfilled me, eventually, when I found the courage to live for myself rather than other people.

As a bit of a background, I've always been a creative person but that creative side of me has never been encouraged by my parents - in fact you could say they actively discouraged it. Once, my dad tore up a picture I drew for school because he thought I was wasting time. I didn't mention before, but I'm Asian, and my parents have this mentality that if you pursue anything creative you will starve. Hence why I did law combined with Media Arts and Production at university (I'd wanted to make films since I saw Lord of the Rings back in 2001). I hated Law but it was a trade-off so I could do Media Arts, which my parents were absolutely against me doing by itself. Law was the back-up plan. So here I was, stuck in this degree and feeling like my life had no purpose. I was absolutely sick of law and it seemed like there was light at the end of the tunnel - I was wallowing in a miserable, meaningless existence. The sad thing is, even though I was doing Media Arts, I hadn't put much effort that side of my degree because, after being discouraged from doing anything creative all these years, I didn't feel like I was talented or passionate enough to pursue a career in anything creative.

So here I was, languishing, and Christianity came along. I thought I'd give it a try since I had nothing else in my life at that point, but luckily, I was smart enough to realise that this just wasn't right for me and to get out. I still haven't told my friends yet. I hardly talk to them anymore. But it doesn't matter what they think. I think losing their friendship is worth what I gain from being free to think for myself.

So, to cut a long story short, shortly after I "quit" Christianity, I tried acting, on a whim. I was in a theatre production and I loved it. In high school I never had the confidence to even give a speech let alone act in front of an audience, but after the trauma of realising God either doesn't exist, or he doesn't give a shit, what was there to be afraid of? Death? Death was sweet mercy compared to the what the Bible promised to those who turned away from God, but since I didn't believe in the Bible anymore, what did it matter? I was relieved.

So to really cut to the chase (sorry for ranting), what am I doing now? Well, I am...
  • In my last semester of my degree and as far as I know I'm doing great (I worked my butt off this semester and it better pay off!)
  • Doing work experience for a TV production company and apparently they love me (also because I work my butt off),
  • I will be directing a short play next month, which will be performed at the beginning of next year as part of a theatre festival, and...
  • Next year I'm going to film school! (Well it's really just a postgrad degree specialising in film at my current university, but film school sounds cooler.)

So all in all, I'm very proud of myself and how far I've come. I've finally found something meaningful in my life that I wish to pursue (be it film, TV, theatre, whatever). Now that all the poisons have been leached out of my life - abusive parents (not abusive anymore, except to each other on the odd occasion but thankfully I'm out of their control now), loser ex-boyfriends and GOD - that angry, callous, neglectful tyrannical being who demands perfection from us and punishes us for NEVER BEING GOOD ENOUGH (notice a pattern here? - they are all manifestations of the same thing - the shroud of darkness that had covered my life and that had stopped me from gaining the confidence in myself to develop my full potential.)

So there you go. I don't regret the time I spent as a Christian because I think I learned something very valuable: Don't expect anything from other people and always rely on yourself. You are the most important person in your life (I don't mean that in a selfish way, I just mean you can't keep looking to others for approval and you really have to love yourself and accept yourself for who you are) and you NEED to have faith in yourself and your own abilities if you want to accomplish anything meaningful or fulfilling in your life, and to be happy.

I still sometimes question my faith in myself (who doesn't?) - every time I do something new, something I've never done before, I think, "Wow, I didn't know I was capable of that. How is it even possible?" And it scares me sometimes. But hey, as long as I'm alive, I can keep renewing my faith in myself, right? I can keep proving myself to myself. And if you fail, you simply forgive yourself and learn from your mistakes. There's nothing to be afraid of. We all know how it ends - it's how you get there that matters. Life is like walking a tight-rope - you know you can fall at any time, but you keep going. There's no safety net. That's the deal. You look Death/suffering/pain right in the face and you keep walking.

Christians exploited my mental illness to indoctrinate me

Sent in by Kylee

My conversion into Christianity was not based on a rational decision, I am diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder which is a mental illness combining schizophrenia type symptoms with bipolar mood disorder.

At the time of my conversion I was not diagnosed and unaware I had a mental illness; I was psychotic and suffering delusions.

These delusions consisted of a belief that I was communicating with god. I did not embrace Christianity but had my own interpretation of gods nature. My best friend at the time was a Christian and she persuaded me to go to church where they persuaded me to read the bible. I was clinically insane and it is in my opinion a state where people should be protected from evangelists and religious indoctrination. However my episode continued for almost a year before I was diagnosed. The prolonged state of insanity has resulted in damage to my lifelong prognosis.

The only people I confided in about my delusions (which I believed to be true) where my best friend and her pastor. I told my best friend about the divine messages I was receiving and she encouraged these delusions. Once I told her that god had commanded me to leave my family and become a nun she encouraged this delusion suggesting places I should go. When I questioned why god would ask me to do this she told me it had to do with faith. When I spoke to her pastor I told him my strange 'prophetic' dreams and revelations. These had a strong implication that I thought I was Jesus Christ. I also told him that god had told me I have cancer and would die in three years. The reason I point this out is so you can see the obvious nature of my illness and understand why I am angry that the Christians I confided in did not act accordingly.

I requested to be baptized though stipulated that god wanted me to be baptized naked. This pastor did not refer me to medical attention, but instead, knowing full well I was mentally ill, which I am certain he did, accommodated my request for naked baptism.

These christians are culpable for my dismal prognosis as they not only failed to direct me to medical attention; they exploited my illness and indoctrinated me.

I remained a Christian after I had been treated because I had been indoctrinated while I was sick. I learned in church about gods judgment against the non believing and their destination of hell. a couple of years went by and then I got psychotic again. (I mention my delusions in detail because I want you to see how my indoctrination interacted with my illness creating a far worse scenario then just experiencing illness)

I was hospitalized but believed I had died and gone to hell. The fear was excruciating, and I never would have had such a fearful delusion if religious propaganda had not been pushed upon me.

I waited in 'hell' for three days each moment I was convinced that the eternal torture was imminent and unavoidable. This is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to me and for years I suffered nightmares of being in hell.

One day I was listening to my local Christian radio station and the spokesperson was teaching on a passage from the bible about hitting your children with rods. He instructed listeners to hit their children when they were disobedient but not to use your hand as then the child would associate the pain with the parent he said to use an implement.

At this stage, due to my mental illness, I had lost complete confidence in my ability to make rational decisions and trusted in Christian guidance over my own judgment so I began hitting my children with a wooden spoon.

Since my initial episode I had not been in a relationship and was very lonely and not coping well living alone with a mental illness. All my Christian friends told me I had to be in a relationship with a fellow Christian and remain sexually pure until married, needless to say these requirements limited my chances of having a boyfriend greatly. Like I said I was not coping I was severely depressed for four years so much that I had to hand custody of my children over to their father. I was even driven to suicide attempt.

I did eventually meet someone I liked very much but he was an atheist. I decided to be disobedient to the bible and begin dating this man. I went to church one evening and the pastor prayed over me. I had not told him about my relationship but he said to me that god was telling him I am in a wrong relationship and need to change it.

At the time I concluded that this must be a divine message as I had not told him about it. I have since realized he must have heard it from a member of the congregation and then used that opportunity to force me to do what he himself thought was right. Believing this was a divine message I broke up with my boyfriend and shortly after became suicidal. I spoke to the pastor in question about this and he said I should break up with my boyfriend but to do it slowly.

At another point in my Christian experience I was raped, not by a fellow Christian though the reason I share this is that my indoctrination commanded me to forgive all who apologise as the bible says.

This man did apologise though told me that I should apologise also to him for my part in this. (WTF!?! "I'm sorry I allowed you to victimise me.") As a Christian I was compelled to forgive him and this was a very degrading experience there was absolutely nothing good or right about it.

My deconversion took a while but I really made progress once I spoke to my counselor about wanting to be in a relationship with my former boyfriend but being taught it was a sin. My counselor was a Christian but not fundamentalist and she told me her view that the bible was written by man and suggested that I caused no harm to anyone by having a loving relationship. In fact, quite the opposite was true and it was of mutual benefit to me and my former boyfriend.

I began to see the harm I was doing by breaking up with my boyfriend which was indeed more damaging then having a relationship. This lead me to decide maybe the bible wasn't completely inspired though I remained a Christian for a time while I critically evaluated the bible, now I had given myself permission to.

It did not take too long to dismiss the bible with encouragement from my boyfriend who was a source of information regarding the questionable history of the bible and I also allowed myself to accept contradictions and downright malicious judgments of god for what they truly were instead of trying to reason them away.

With the bible given as much merit as it deserved by me the logical process that lead to me becoming atheist went something like this...

It was evident that those individuals who sincerely desired to know and follow god were not rewarded with a clear, consistent, universal truth.

Therefore the assumption that god exists seems unlikely, especially if this god requires us to believe in him and follow his teachings. Also if there were a god who did not care what we believed yet was compassionate he would undoubtedly reveal himself to end confusion, wars, condemnation, and fear of eternal damnation.

This compels me personally to disregard any notion of god

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