First of all, thanks to the people of this forum! It's good to have a place where people who have freed themselves from the mind-shackles of Christianity can meet and encourage one another. Now for my story which I hope will encourage someone out there.
I'm 43 and was raised Southern Baptist. My parents were both devout Christians from the time I was born. I went to church for as long as I can remember and gave my life to Christ at the ripe old age of six. I was the model Christian child and I leader in all my peer groups my whole childhood. I was a member of the Royal Ambassadors and could always beat everyone else in a good old-fashioned sword drill. My parents were proud of me and I loved being a Christian. I loved the old OT stories about the Exodus and David's conquests. The NT bored me because it was mostly a bunch of letters and stories about Jesus teachings. I loved Jesus but I didn't like reading about him. I was a typical boy who liked the adventure stories and, regardless of whatever else you want to say about it, the Bible has some good ones.
Despite this, I always had serious doubts about what I believed. I never really believed the story of Adam and Eve could be anything other than a myth like the Greek myths that I also loved as a child. I mean, talking snakes? Forbidden fruit? a naked man and woman running around in a mystical garden? No one really thought this was true did they? Well yes. Many people around me did think it was true (or at least SAID they thought it was true). I was just a little kid. What did I know? All these adults professing this story to be true was pretty convincing to me so I went along with them, not fully believing but also not convinced that the story couldn't have happened that way.
I was a shy kid at school but an outspoken leader at church. I didn't fit in well with kids who weren't Christians and had few close friends outside of church for most of my life. My dad was very strict about us attending church every Sunday morning and evening, and Monday and Wednesday evenings. I can remember begging my dad to let me stay home the night of Super Bowl XVII to watch my beloved Redskins play the Dolphins and him telling me that it was more important to go to Sunday evening church than watch a football game. I'm still a bit bitter about it. My childhood was full of moments like that where church was placed on the highest pedestal outside of family.
I always had an interest in science, particularly biology. I can remember watching nature shows about animals and loving them. I also remember the awkward moment when evolution was mentioned on one of these programs and my father would give a disgusted sigh claiming it was “garbage”. Evolution seemed to make sense to me even as a young child but it must have been wrong to generate such a reaction in my father.
As a teen I began to become more and more cynical about Christianity as I saw little evidence to indicate it was true. Most of my peers were heavily committed to Christianity and wanted to share their faith with their lost friends. Many of them brought friends to church on occasion, but I never did given that I had few friends outside of church and I was beginning to really doubt the validity of Christianity. I had more head knowledge about the Bible than probably anyone else in my youth group and I could spout off the “correct” answers about theological issues. Most of my teachers saw me as someone who was capable of teaching others. In fact, after I was married I went on to teach youth, college and adult Bible studies for many years, most of which were during the time when I no longer believed the Bible myself.
My wife and I met at church and were married right out of college. We had a beautiful ceremony in church where our minister gave a great sermon about how marriage was a picture of Jesus and the church. I’ve heard that same sermon so many times now I can practically recite it myself to this day. Everyone loved it and thought it was the most beautiful wedding ceremony they had ever seen.
The turning point in my religious life – the point at which I became an atheist in principle – was shortly after the birth of our first child. I read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky and was floored by the character of Ivan and his devastating attacks on religion. I had no answers for his statements about the suffering of children. No possible argument I could think of could rescue God from his allowing children to suffer, be tortured and die at the hands of cruel adults. I thought of my young son and considered how I would never allow such a thing to happen to him if I had the power to intervene, a power that God surely possessed. By the time I finished the book, God was dead to me.
I summoned the courage to tell my wife about my atheism several months later. She was horrified and questioned whether she could stay married to me. I quickly backpeddled and told her I was working though my unbelief and would continue to live as a Christian. God would bring me back. My new family was too important to sacrifice for my selfish desire to reject Christianity. I lived the next 15 years going through the motions. I was a valued Bible study teacher. I also became a deacon at our church and was elected chairman on two separate occasions. I was eventually selected to head up a pastoral search team to select a new pastor for our church when our pastor of nearly twenty years stepped down. I was one of the most important and respected members of my church, and the whole time I was living as an unbeliever.
The new pastor and his wife became our close friends. We laughed and celebrated together and went on backpacking trips that I will cherish in my memories forever. Then things turned dark. I won’t go into details because this post is already too long, but the pastor we thought was a friend betrayed us deeply. He turned out to be a Calvinist in sheep’s clothing and when my wife and I became involved in a nasty conflict with another high profile family at church, we were subjected to church discipline. After about a year of trying to resolve these issues we were pushed out the door of the church to which I had devoted 35 years of my life. For the first time in my life. I was without a church home. That was two and a half years ago.
The story has a happy ending though. My wife left behind Christianity as well. She still believes in a God or a higher power but it’s not an important part of her life anymore. I was finally free to embrace the unbelief I had suppressed for most of my life. I am still forging new friendships outside of church and it has been a difficult process for someone whose whole identity was forged in Christianity, but I am making progress. My wife and I are happier and more in love than ever before.
I’m extremely fortunate in how that has turned out; I know many marriages never recover from what we’ve been through. It hasn’t been due to God’s grace or any such nonsense. It has been a ton of hard work on both of our parts and a refusal to allow superstition to tear apart the most important relationship we will ever have. I still become angry when I hear Christians say that their relationship with Jesus is more important than their marriage. I never believed that and I have no idea how a delusion could be so strong that one could value it more highly than the most important person in one’s life.
I have a lot more I could say, but I’ve gone on long enough. I suspect my story is fairly typical, but it’s my story and perhaps there is someone out there who is going through something similar. I won’t say you should do what I have done and walk away completely – there will be hardships if you have invested a lot in Christianity – but I will say that it was completely worth it to me. I am finally free. Free to see the world as it is and not as an ancient manuscript claims it to be. Free to ask questions and seek true answers. Freedom to live this life to its fullest and not deny myself in order to attain everlasting bliss. Freedom from fear of eternal punishment. Freedom to be free.