I've been a lurker here occasionally on ex-christian for a few years, and I feel that it is the time for me to share my personal story with you.
I am 24 years old.
Looking back, I loved my childhood. My parents raised me to be a man of God from the very beginning. Every Sunday we went to a small non-denominational protestant evangelical church, and we were very involved in the church community. I went to a private Christian school all the way grades 1-12. It was an incredibly sheltered life, but it was great. The people I trusted unconditionally taught me all I needed to know about god. Before I was born, my mom and dad were missionaries. I knew this as a kid, but it didn't really sink in until I was in middle school. The youth group at church was organizing a mission trip and I participated. This was life changing experience. I dedicated my life to God and was baptized. My life had a purpose and things are looking sunny. I read my Bible cover to cover - even Chronicles. I was on the path that was already laid out for me.
Skip forward a couple years -- in my high school, I had one history teacher - a christian - who taught me how to seriously think critically. This is when I learned how to take a historical document and write an analysis as opposed to a book report. Mix this with my fervent passion for God, and all the sudden I had an interest in Christian apologetics. Interestingly, my dad's personal testimony had a lot to do with believing in God because of reason. He had become convinced by evidence that Christianity was right. And since my dad and this teacher of mine both had a strong faith, I knew that if I started going down that road, my faith would be strengthened, and I would be able to more effectively defend my christian worldview. Worst assumption I ever made. It worked out great for a couple years, and I got pretty deep into christian apologetics. Studying all the big guys like C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, and Thomas Acquinas. All of the big theological debates I found fascinating. Debates within Christian circles like predestination, general and specific salvation, and age of accountability...
Then came college. As I quickly realized, all the hotshot stuff I read in high school...it was all on the Christian side. I took a philosophy course freshman year, and with all the questions my professors and peers were asking...those weren't the atheist arguments that I had read about. I thought I knew them, but the Christian apologists always had some straw man, distorted or inconsistent picture of what the anti-theist position really was. This was a little bit unnerving. As I was learning in my studies, if you are serious about reason and logic, and you are serious about persuading other people that your view is correct or at least most likely to be true, then you have to start your investigation with a clean slate. Even if you have strong beliefs, you have to suspend them in order to start on common ground -- otherwise your dialogue will be pointless. That means not assuming that the Bible is true. It also means no circular reasoning. At the time, I thought to myself that this system made a whole lot of sense, but I took it as a challenge. "Ok, fine! I'll assume that we really don't know if god exists, and I'll still find a nice logical thought process that would inevitably conclude that it is more reasonable to believe in God, than not to believe in God. I mean heck, CS Lewis did it already, I just have to go back and remind myself what it is." I really thought that by pure reason alone, I was going to conclude that my beliefs -- out of all the belief systems in the world now and in the past -- my beliefs would be the ones that would come out on top.
Needless to say, after reviewing the apologist writings in light of some of the real objections I had heard, this did not go over very well. And even worse, I was starting to come up with my own rational objections and doubts. The 'age of accountability' theology that I was so intrigued with earlier, was a total disaster! Predestination was entirely incompatible with human free will. And the millions and millions of people who lived before Christ or who have never heard of Christ...did they all go to hell? That didnt seem right...Or were they saved by some vague kind of faith in a higher power, like Abraham's faith was 'credited to him as righteousness'? If so then why do people have to specifically believe in Jesus today? For every single issue the theologians were always twisting the scriptures into pretzels to make everything appear to be consistent. And they couldn't even agree.
Basically all of these things came together in a perfect storm, and I was struggling for quite some time with a lot of doubts spinning around in my head. I got an 'A' in that philosophy class. And I was also seriously entertaining the possibility that everything I thought I knew about God...all those tugs on my heart and that warm feeling I got from worship, might have just been people deceiving me, and me deceiving myself. I lost trust in the theologians and started just going straight to the Bible and to prayer to see if I could find the answers for myself. Night after night in bed, with a long prayer ending in tears and crying myself to sleep. Lord, reveal yourself to me! It says right here to seek and you shall find. It says right here that you helped the man who asked you specifically to help him with his unbelief. It says right here to taste and see, and that you will draw near to us. Why isn't it happening? Why are you letting my faith fall apart like this? You are supposed to know exactly what I am feeling. You gave me this brain to think with didn't you? Why are you requiring me to go against my own reasoning? If I could somehow choose to make myself believe I would! I am trying to believe but I just can't!
Since there were many nights I couldn't sleep, I would take walks on those cool nights at 3am on campus over by the lighted path near the lake. Sometimes I'd sit over on that bench, look up at the stars and just ponder and try to organize some of the chaos going on in my head. One of those nights I remember making up my mind. I was going to say one final prayer. I laid it all out on the table and poured my heart out one last time. I asked God to reveal himself to me again and again, and also asked God to forgive me if I was in the wrong. After that draining experience and realizing that God was not changing my attitude, walking back to my room was eerie. Is this it? This is the end? I am no longer a Christian?
That was the one moment I can clearly identify as having given up the fruitless struggle. And tt has taken some time for me to accept the fact that I don't believe in God. One video that I saw really helped me in this regard -- I owe a big thank you to atheist Youtuber Scott Clifton (aka "TheoreticalBullshit") for uploading a video entitled "...And what if I'm wrong?"
This plus a few other encouraging videos really gave me a peace about my nonbelief that I didn't have previously. I am ok with it now.
As for my family, no one knows I am no longer a Christian. I've been a closet atheist for several years now. When I am in my hometown I still attend church. My parents know I probably won't become a missionary, but otherwise they think I'm still a regular Christian and share the same beliefs as them. Ever since this whole thing started I have wondered whether I might come out, but I have always been too afraid to. There are so many reasons why I feel that I should not. First, I love my parents and I appreciate how they raised me. They honestly do believe in God, and are so serious about it that if they knew I did not believe in God, they would think that they have failed as parents. I was taught that the most important responsibility of parents is to raise their children to become mighty men and women of God. I don't want them to think that they have failed. They havent failed. Secondly, I remember my mom having a conversation with another christian mom whose son was having a serious problem/run-in with the law... my mother encouraged her with some spiritual lesson, and during the course of this, followed up with "The only thing that my children could do that would truly, I mean truly, disappoint me would be if they turned their back on God." Those words stung. Thirdly, I know what happens to people in the family or church community who fall away or have a serious problem. Just being a part of this community for so many years I have seen it over and over. The whole freaking family and the whole freaking church ends up finding out about your personal business and you get a ginormous 'prayer army' praying for you every week at church or at the small group meetings and trying to 'help'. They are dear people and they mean well but I don't want any of that. My whole family and extended family are Christians and I feel that I would lose a piece of my relationship to them.
And yet, sometimes I still wish I could come out. At this point I don't even know if I ever will, except to someone I might consider marrying. I've been an atheist for several years now but I will always have a soft spot for Christianity. I even would say that I 'like' it mostly, aside from a few social things that I perceive as moral flaws. I don't hate it at all. It is a rich tradition and that is entirely how I view it - as a tradition.
Bottom line is, I felt that I should share my story because I know there are so many people out there who are struggling with this. My story isn't over yet, but I just want people to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And I want to know that too for myself. That is what this entire community is about.
Thanks for reading, and bless you all