I grew up attending fundy churches. Once upon a time I would have told you that I made a choice to follow Jesus at 8 years old. Looking back I'm not sure that is true. I was indoctrinated. I was never made to feel there was any other alternative. At least no alternative that didn't involve becoming a reprobate piece of trash worthy only of burning forever in hell.
I was part of that culture for over 30 years. I have walked away from it the last few years. It was a slow process. Every small change was a struggle. The tendrils of my former religion cling tightly.
As I look back over that time I have lots of regrets. None of those regrets even compare to one though. My Christian upbringing killed the inquisitive side of me.
While I don't have lots of clear memories of my childhood I do remember being perpetually curious. I asked lots of questions. I wanted to understand things. I somehow needed things to make sense.
I'm sure you can already see where this is going. I asked questions, lots of them. I even questioned God, Jesus, the Bible, and the beliefs of my church/denomination. For me it wasn't enough to just take the word of those in authority if it didn't make sense to me. Of course this was not received well.
I was told more than once that faith requires believing even when something doesn't make sense. I quickly found out that asking those types of questions was not only frowned upon, but very likely a sign of sin and unbelief. That was scary. Sin and unbelief led to eternal torture in hell. I didn't want that. So I stopped questioning. I suppressed that part of me.
My religion induced fear and guilt completely squashed my inquisitive nature because that type of religion is supposed to permeate every area of a person’s life.
Part of me died. I fit in with my religious culture, but I was no longer myself. I didn't like who I was, but according to Christian culture God liked who I was and that was all that mattered.
A few years back an undiagnosed medical condition put my world into a complete tailspin. I became severely depressed. Eventually I became suicidal. During all of this I constantly cried out to God for his help and intervention. Because of my 'indoctrination' I was sure that he would help. I was convinced that God would either mystically just take away the depression or send some superchristian along to help me with it.
The Christians I came across had lots of things to say about my depression:
- I had a demon inside me. (I laugh about that now, but it wasn't funny then. It scared me badly. It actually made my depression much worse to think I had some evil being living in me causing it.)
- I was running away from God's will for my life, and of course running away from God results in misery.
- I needed to be more devoted to God (Of course more devotion to God meant a bigger commitment to my church by way of money and time given to support it)
There were others, but you get the idea. None of the advice was remotely helpful. As a matter of fact I can see now that most of it was terribly self-serving. The supposedly loving and caring Christian leaders in my life used my depression as a way to manipulate me into giving more time and money to the church. Sadly, as horrible as that is I think they really believed they were doing the right thing. It was an ends justifying the means mentality. They didn't see their actions as selfish because they sincerely believed they were helping me.
My God had failed me. I had been sure God was going to bring me out of the depression that controlled me. Despite clinging to that faith for so long the time came that I found myself sitting alone with the implements that would bring my life to an end. My faith was gone, dashed on rocks of despair and hopelessness. I was no longer sure if God existed, but if he did I was positive he cared nothing for me.
It was at that exact moment that the real me broke out from the prison I had confined it in all those years. Losing my faith allowed me to find myself again. Suddenly I had questions. Lots of them. The first few opened a tiny pinprick of hope into my world of despair. They were questions that both excited and confused me. They all centered around one central theme.
How could it be that giving up my faith gave me hope where I had none previously?
I had been taught all my life that real happiness, peace, and contentment only come from a life devoted to serving God. Yet there I was feeling more happy and peaceful than I could remember feeling in a long time. I felt more hope than I could ever remember feeling in my life.
A few years later I still find that there are vestiges of three decades of religion that continue to affect the way I think and act. But the former me would find the person I am today to be delusional and in need of God.
Fortunately, I am that person with lots of questions again. I'm thankful for the questions, but there are still some of them that really bother me.
How would my life be different today if I hadn't spent approximately 25 years of my life being taught in a subtle way that my natural desire for knowledge and understanding were bad things?
What could I have accomplished in my life if I hadn't suppressed the real me? I am confident I would have done much better in school.
Maybe I would have been a scientist trying to find a cure for one of the various diseases that plague mankind.
There are lots of maybes. I wish there weren't, but despite that I am happier than I have ever been. I'm asking questions I should have asked a couple of decades ago. I'm finding answers that don't require suppressing reason and logic.
I'm finding that the real me is not only a happier person, but a better person than the one I hid behind a Christian veneer.