For the longest time, I was undecided about whether I would post an anti-testimony here. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to expose my deepest wounds to the members of this forum. Finally, after much internal debate, I decided that coming clean about my faith loss might actually help me to heal from the damage inflicted upon me by my former religious system.
One word of warning: the story is both lengthy and painful. Just thought I’d give you the heads up before I began. (*Takes a deep breath*) Here goes:
I was born into a Catholic family. Both of my parents are strict adherents of their faith- especially my father. His staunchness is such that it makes him intolerant of those who believe differently. Growing up, I heard frequent insults against Protestant Christians, as well as all types of secularists. Of course, I managed to soak up all of this bigotry like a sponge- and spewed much of it myself for the longest time. My parents’ brainwashing tactics worked beautifully- for the almost the entire time that I lived in their home, I was the poster child for devout Catholicism. I went to Mass every Sunday, worshipped the Christian God, and obeyed every doctrine of the Church.
At the age of eighteen, my faith life became more turbulent. It was around this time that I began to question whether or not Catholicism was the right religion after all. I struggled with frustration over the severity of many Church doctrines for about a three year period. Then, at twenty-one, I somehow realized that the Church *was* real after all. I took much joy in my faith at this time, despite not being able to explain exactly *why* I believed in it. It felt real, and that was good enough for me. For a while, I felt like nothing would ever shake my beliefs again. Little did I know that it would only be eighteen months until my downfall began.
Fast forward to Summer 2004. At this point, I’d been dating an atheistic man for just under a half year. In the beginning, I’d been hesitant to go out with him because we had religious differences. However, I needed love in my life, and was not getting any from my parents (who are both abusive and manipulative). Somehow, my boyfriend and I managed to fall in love and get along with each other despite our dissimilar beliefs. However, I was struggling with one unresolved question that my S.O. had posed to me several months earlier. The question was: “What is the point of an eternal Hell? What human act is so terrible that it merits perpetual damnation?” I hadn’t been affected by this question before, but now it really bothered me. Why? Because although my religion did not *guarantee* that non-believers went to Hell, it *definitely* implied that this was a strong possibility. I felt a deep sense of sadness over this: How could a loving God eternally condemn the man I loved due to an inability to believe in Him?. My boyfriend did not understand the plausibility of theism. Why did this call for eternal punishment? As time went on, my sadness would eventually turn to rage.
At around this same time, I came down with a severe bout of scrupulosity. For those of you who have never heard of this condition, it is essentially a form of OCD that revolves around morality/religion. At this point, I’d already been struggling with the disease for a decade. My scruples revolved mainly around supposed sexual “sins”, and the ability to correctly articulate them whenever I made a sacramental confession. I often found myself asking if I really had meant to commit an “impure” act, or if just *thought* I did. I’d also worry that if my confessions did not sound as detailed as a pornographic story, then they were “invalid”, and my sins would not be forgiven. Thanks to the scruples, partaking of the Sacraments was excruciating for me. I was deeply unhappy, and could not understand why God allowed me to suffer like this. I was doing the best I could to keep myself free of “mortal sins” (I.e. wrongdoings that allegedly send a person to Hell if not confessed before death). Currently, I can recognize that the ritualized nature of practices like Confession and the Eucharist can easily cause a person to develop OCD- especially if it runs in one’s family (and it does in mine). However, two years ago, this thought never entered my mind, and all I could focus on was the sheer psychological torture that I was experiencing.
With my mental health getting worse and worse, it somehow dawned on me that *now* was the time to really look into my faith, and decide for myself if the Church’s claims really were based on truth. It was around this time that I started having anxiety attacks at Mass. Basically, I would develop the feeling that other congregants could see into my soul, and find out about all the horrible sins I had committed recently. Even though I *knew* it was impossible for strangers to learn what I’d done without saying so, the idea bothered me greatly. In addition to this, I also experienced some nasty physical symptoms (sweating, shaking, etc) on a number of occasions in church. While I didn’t panic at every Mass, I still found it hellish to attend. But I knew that if I skipped, then I would be in “mortal sin”- and would be at risk of frying in Hell forever.
On the occasions that I *wasn’t* plagued by anxiety at Mass, I was bombarded with endless questions about the validity of Christianity in general. During countless homilies, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this Bible story that the priest is explaining really true? It sure sounds farfetched to me.” And it did. All of the miracles allegedly performed by Jesus in the NT sounded totally unrealistic. Also, why did a perfect being (i.e. God) even *need* to have offspring??? What was the point, other than the so-called “perfect sacrifice” of the crucifixion (which was anything but, considering that “few are chosen” anyway)? As time went on, the Bible seemed more and more like a made up fairytale to me- especially because I had taken so many of the stories literally for most of my life.
Before 2004 ended, I had come to the conclusion that I no longer loved the Christian God. How could I love a deity who did heinous things like condemn people, or make forgiveness contingent upon revealing wrongdoings to a priest? These types of behaviours seemed awfully cruel to me. I continued to confess my sins - and my obsessions. But no matter what I tried, I could not bring myself to love the Christian God for whom He seemed to be. I never would again.
By the time March 2005 came around, I was as deep in doubt as ever. And something that I’d been suppressing decided to make itself known in a most unwelcome way: my sexuality. Up until the previous year, I’d been pretty much asexual. But after falling in love, I realized that I *did* have an immensely powerful sex drive. The discovery brought a mix of pain and pleasure to my life (mostly pain). Did I end up “doing it”? No. But I *did* engage in other acts of physical affection with my partner that I *knew* the Church was against. See, in Catholicism, it’s not just pre-marital sex that’s forbidden for singles, but any act that brings about sexual arousal. While I had previously endorsed the Church’s stance in this area, I now found myself left with guilt and confusion. I had obsessed about “going too far” in the past. Now, that I was *actually* doing so, I could not understand why that was so terrible in God’s eyes. Why did I have to feel guilty for wanting to act on my passions- especially when I knew they came so naturally to most twentysomethings??? The whole ordeal made my OCD worse- and made me increasingly reluctant to partake of the sacraments.
From an emotional standpoint, the rest of my year was a mixed bag of ongoing illness, shame, anguish, and questioning. It was in December 2005 that I made my last sacramental confession. I imagine the priest was concerned about my inability to love God, but he did not judge me for it. I vowed to keep myself sin-free- and to stop questioning my faith. But by this point, many of the Church’s tenets had become *really* difficult to swallow Things like the trinity, the concept of “mortal sin”, and the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist all seemed increasingly nonsensical to me. Still, I felt that if I stuffed down the doubts, they would eventually disappear. I made a painstaking attempt to do this after I’d confessed for the final time. But my resolve crumbled in less than two weeks.
I was realizing that I could no longer treat my faith in the manner I had been for the past year. Sooner or later, something had to give.
It was in late February of 2006 that I finally reached my breaking point. I was sitting in the food court of a local mall with my sweetie. Feeling frustrated about all my doubts, I asked him, “Do you think I’m still Catholic?”
He responded with, “Yes, but you appear to be a struggling one.”
I felt a wave of anger wash over me. I hesitated, then said, “Don’t ever call me Catholic again. I’m an *ex-Catholic* now. I don’t want to be associated with that religion.”
He promised that he would keep that in mind from this point on.
With the end of this discussion, I acknowledged the end of my faith. The deconversion was now complete.
For the first couple of months after this conversation, I was shocked that I had actually lost my faith. Sometimes, I had doubts about my newfound disbelief. I wondered, “Am I really an ex-Catholic, or do I just think I am? Of course, looking back, I realize that this was likely my OCD acting up again. However, I found that I no longer had the types of scruples that had plagued me as a Catholic. I came to terms with the fact that sexuality was not a bad thing, and that I needn’t feel guilt over indulgence in certain acts. I also acknowledged that my former religion had indeed contributed to my illness. From this point on, I strived to be honest with myself about my feelings, thoughts and beliefs.
It is has now six months later . I continue to be spiritual despite non-adherence to a religious system. I believe that a higher power does exist, but am convinced that it is entirely different from Biblegod. I acknowledge that this force may not intervene in human affairs, and that I might be a deist. But my current conception of God is still very much in the works. If the world’s creator(s) actually have a personality, I’m sure that he/she/it/they will understand the struggles I have been through, and will not act in the arbitrary manner that is so characteristic of the Christian God. To me, it only makes sense that God be compassionate. Why create only to destroy? The idea is utter nonsense.
I have pretty much given up all of the Catholic rituals that I once held dear. On occasion, I choose to attend Mass despite not believing. This decision is fueled by the fact that my abusive and prejudiced parents do not know of my deconversion (though I plan to tell them within the next year or so). But even this is a sporadic occurrence. At this point, I can honestly say that I no longer miss Catholicism. I am much freer without it. It is wonderful to be able to think and act for myself without experiencing guilt over it.
I lost my religion. I no longer have a belief in Christianity. But I continue to have faith-faith that I will ultimately find the answers that I seek. If I am to believe in something without directly observable evidence, then surely this isn’t a bad thing in which to place my trust.
I can only hope…