Nine years ago I would never have pictured myself writing this, but here I am! I’d call my story fairly typical. I was raised in a somewhat liberal, seeker-friendly Church that emphasized community and fellowship. My parents took me until I was around 12, then my Dad stopped coming inexplicably. My mother remains a large part of the Church, and enjoys having such a large support network. Most of my friends were Christians throughout school, and Church / youth group provided safe and fun activities for unquestioning minds. I had always wondered what my “faith” would look like after youth group was over. How much of my life would be devoted to “being devoted”? Would Church always be a priority?
Well, I got my answer. I started university, and through other friends, met a wonderful guy. But WAIT! He wasn’t a Christian! My friends strongly advised against seeing him. I thankfully ignored them. I rationalized that he respected my beliefs, and loved me for who I was (which is still true). I reasoned that we could peacefully co-exist. But I could see trouble brewing on the horizon, not in the relationship, but with my friends.
Back to the guy. He is amazingly rational freethinker, and he gently exposed me to the world of James Randi, Penn and Teller’s Bullshit!, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and other freethinkers. While initially easily offended, I grew to empathize with, and then agree with them when flaws in Christianity were pointed out. I thought I could get away with just being a more liberal Christian, believing that the Bible was culturally and historically influenced, and not the exact Word of God. But as I’m sure many of you have realized, once you take away that corner stone, the rest of the faith ceases to make sense. I was going down the “slippery slope” at high velocity, but the voices of skepticism gave me skis, and I enjoyed my descent as things started to make so much more sense.
The “low point” of my de-conversion (so far) was a girls weekend last summer, where an informal “intervention” was held. In short, some of my well-meaning Christian friends were concerned about the state of my soul. They said that I was changing my beliefs to impress my boyfriend, and that I had become a cold, hard, cynical and skeptical person. (note that they made the mistake of equating cynical and skeptical.) They said we could never be compatible or happy together. I could see my decade-long closest friendships dissolving before my very eyes, which was heartbreaking. It is frustrating, having been on the other side of this situation; seeing friends “lose the faith” and being concerned and upset, wondering what more I could have done, and how sad it was for them.
I know they pity me. But they have no reason to. I’m happier and more content with life than I’ve ever been. I’m no longer waking up early on weekends to fill a pew, sing a song and feel none-the-wiser after. I’m sleeping in, which is what a nurse who works full time 12-hour shifts should do! I give back to humanity every day through my work, treating my patients and co-workers with dignity and respect and compassion, just as I did as a Christian. I was never very vocal about my faith to the general public, so nothing has changed there.
My bookshelf looks very different now; I’m currently reading Micheal Shermer’s How We Believe, 2nd Edition: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God, and I recently devoured Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace by William Lobdell. I find such comfort in hearing the stories of other people who have been through the same process. A close friend also de-converted a year or so before I did. I went from one side of the fence to the other, initially not understanding his decision, and then bonding with him over our mutual experiences, and now our friendship is stronger than ever. My new perspective makes me value every day; since I no longer believe in an afterlife, or at least doubt its existence, the knowledge that this is all we have pressures me to make the most of it, as cliché as that sounds.
I realize that my story is more about the social consequences of leaving Christianity, as opposed to the big theological questions or the intellectual challenges of accepting evolution. While that latter two were legitimate hurdles to jump, the social aspect was an intimidating 6-foot-tall hurdle, with barbed wire and bits of glass (please forgive the hyperbole!) Social reasons were my prime motivation for going to Church – my friends and family were there, it was safe. But as my doubts grew deeper and the tension grew, I became very uncomfortable within those 4 walls, and it felt like the people around me could feel me radiating skepticism with every verse read. I confided to a friend a taste of my doubts, and she immediately recommended I stop going, which I have done. And when I hear about a positive experience that a friend has had in Church, or a way that they’ve taken a “new step” in their faith, I say “as long as it makes them happy” and wish them well. I’m not bitter towards the faith in regards to my upbringing, but I’m the first to criticize the Church as an Institution’s shortcomings.
The journey continues. And yes, my boyfriend loves the new me as much as the "Capital C" Christian that I used to be. He has been my rock throughout this chaotic journey, and with him by my side, I can tackle whatever life has to throw at me. As a parting word to anyone reading this: be strong. The process can be ridiculously hard and lonely, though less so now that you've found this site. Take comfort in the experiences of others.