I signed up here earlier this year, and this is my first post. After reading some other stories on here, I decided I might be in the right place. Here's my story of being brainwashed young, and becoming deprogrammed.
When I was ready for kindergarten, my parents both worked full time. They decided to drop me off at my aunt's house every day, and I would go to school in her town. It was about a half hour away, and they didn't want me in the public school. They enrolled me in a Christian school, run by a Presbyterian church, although they weren't very religious and never attended church. Up until then, the extent of my childhood religious teaching was simply "you go to heaven when you die". Just a seemingly comforting thing one might say to a curious child.
When I started at this school, kindergarten wasn't too harsh. We'd listen to watered down Bible stories, learn verses together, and do normal kindergarten things. The very first Bible verse I learned was the 23rd Psalm.
I don't remember exactly how or when I first learned about Hell, but I'm too aware of the harm it does to a child. It was probably around first grade. We were taught that God was the creator and father, and he was separated from us because of our sins. The way to get to know him was to have a personal relationship with Jesus, his son he sent to die, which somehow took our sins away. Oh, and they were also the same person, along with the holy spirit. It was difficult to wrap my little brain around that, but I tried to understand. I still wasn't sure who or what the holy spirit was, but was told it was inside us when we accepted Jesus as our personal savior. I remember seeing it drawn in a Christian book as little flames over people's heads. Ok, I got it. God was the big scary dad, Jesus was his nice son and I was taught to pray in his name to appeal to "dad" when I needed something. The HS was just some nameless entity that went along with those two. Then came the anger.
At only age 6 or 7, this Christian education created a very pissed off child. I could tell how frustrated the teachers were whenever I asked questions. I asked the usual things, like "how does someone fit all those animals on a boat?" or "do animals go to heaven?" They would try to brush me off with some non-answer. Then I got into more serious issues. I wanted to know if people who had never heard of Jesus, or had a different religion, would go to Hell. After all, it wasn't their fault, right? I was told that that's why we, as Christians, need to help them get saved. I wondered why God was so mean. He couldn't even make an exception if the person was really, REALLY good? Nope, that's not how God works. So I started to pray more, because I was told my prayers would be "answered". I wanted stuff (like any kid), and I wanted answers to my questions. I thought God might even "talk back". Well I never heard anything, nor did I get whatever things I asked for, so I got mad. I actually remember cussing out God regularly, thinking he was such an asshole. Every time something bad happened, I got pissed at God because they said everything was "his will", or he "worked in mysterious ways". At this point, I was even angry with my teachers, who were so condescending and artificially joyful. And they said I should be joyful too, no matter what, because of Jesus. Yep, I fully believed in God. I just didn't like him. Unfortunately, I was supposed to LOVE him, more than my family or anyone else. That really disturbed me, because I just couldn't. I was so confused and scared. I didn't want to go to Hell, but I couldn't force myself to love God when he never answered me and let/made bad things happen all the time.
I calmed down a bit after 2nd grade, since I was occupied by other things. I made a friend in my neighborhood, and he made fun of me for being a Christian and told me we came from monkeys, but he was cool. I started liking a boy at school, and we were best friends until he moved. I liked reading and trying on makeup. I still believed in God, and I tried to have faith, but occasionally wondered if he was really there. It scared me to think he wasn't, because it comforted me to feel like someone was in control. I was afraid of death, afraid of Hell (although "saved", I had doubts), and afraid of ceasing to exist if nobody was up there. I didn't know what anxiety was back then, but clearly I had a problem.
Soon, I realized that some of the school's teachings weren't consistent with how my parents were raising me. Confusing. My dad took me book shopping often, but the ghost stories I liked were unchristian. A teacher said she found my Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in my desk, and said to take it home and she'd call my parents. I told her to go ahead because my dad bought it, so she got huffy and said not to bring it back. They told me to try and get everyone I know saved, so I started with my mother, which annoyed her. She wasn't quite atheist, read about a lot of different spiritual ideas, but said she didn't have faith in Jesus. The school also taught that Halloween was bad, but my mom loved making my costumes for trick or treating and I went every year.
After 5th grade, in which I was emotionally abused and treated like shit by my teacher, my parents went to the principal and the school board. The teacher cried and said she'd pray for them when they had a meeting, but didn't get fired. I started 6th grade at public school in my town.
Throughout middle school, I didn't think much about religion. I still had the nagging fears and worries in the back of my mind though. Did I believe enough? Will I be forgiven if I don't love God as much as I should? I went through all these thoughts by myself, since nobody would understand. I just kept trying to push my anxiety away and think of other things. I felt so abnormal.
When I went to high school, and after high school, I was very on and off. I considered different beliefs, thought about different things, but always came back to Christianity. Not very religious, but a "just in case" believer.
Now I am here, comfortable saying I am an ex-Christian at age 32. It's been a slow process, since I kept that just in case mentality for years. In 2008 I got back in touch with my sister. We "adopted" each other in high school and I'll always call her that. We hung out after almost 10 years just like we never lost contact, and I learned that she is strongly atheist. I never attempted to convert her, and we joked about how cool it was that a Christian and an atheist could have conversations about beliefs without awkwardness. I see now that it's partly because I was on the way out. I saw myself as some kind of liberal Christian at that time. Evolution had been fact to me for years. I didn't believe in the Bible anymore, since I didn't like what I read, but did believe in God. I needed a god, because I have an extreme fear of death, because I needed to pretend someone was listening, and because I couldn't imagine believing in nothing.
As I spent more time with my sister, I began to understand her struggle as an atheist in a predominantly Christian town. Her kids had almost lost friendships because a fundie mom saw a postcard on her fridge with a kitten on it that says "God isn't real". Funny, I gave my sister that card out of my Breaking Bad News With Baby Animals book! So as I continued to empathize with her "atheist problems" and stick up for her whenever possible, she ended up trying to win the internet in a Facebook debate with Christians. Like the good sister I am, I "liked" the atheist page she was on and jumped to her defense. I then started seeing daily posts from that page, and many were interesting science facts. Since I like learning about things, I ended up liking a few similar ones which posted nature pictures and atheist quotes (One of which actually led me here by sharing a link). Over the last couple years, I've been seeing those things every day in my news feed, along with lots of information about the harm religion can cause. This made me realize that I'm not a believer; I was simply afraid. As I got used to the idea, I started to wonder what was the point of life if nothing happens when it's over. But then I got truly inspired by something on one of the god-free Facebook pages. It was a picture of the stars that said, "Isn't it enough that you are the universe experiencing itself?" That thought made me feel so much more significant than religion ever could. As I thought more about my purpose, I realized that everything I say or do that affects someone positively IS my meaning of life. And when I die, I would be most satisfied if my remains could somehow contribute to another life.
But that's a different research topic.
I'm a happy ex-Christian, and I feel like part of something big.
I know this was a novel, and I'm not very good at organizing my thoughts while writing. But it felt good to get it out. There's a lot more to my life than all this, so if you read this far and have any questions, feel free to ask.