Glad to finally join this community, though my initial exodus from Christianity is now more than a decade old. Needless to say, it was traumatic, and somehow I survived. Here's an intro to my journey and some of what I've learned. I apologize for the length.
I grew up in a non-religious home of scientists, mostly pharmacists. We were uninterested in religion, and pretty much figured that it was for weak-minded people, or people acculturated into it.
High School Nonconformity
Being too smart for my own good, I skipped 1st grade, which created a primary school experience of always being smaller and emotionally behind my peers, especially girls. I was not athletic, small and bookish, and got bullied a lot. I rejected the preppy culture of popular kids (this is the late 70's) and identified with new wave musical artists like Devo, The Talking Heads, the B-52's, as well as some of the heavier metal and art rock of the time (Black Sabbath, Rush). I relished the disdain of popular kids when I said things like "Zeppelin sucks" or "the Stones suck." I basically had a lot of what I call negative identity formation - if it was popular, I rejected it.
College Identity Changes
At age 17, I began college with a lot of freedom. I got a Mohawk, drank a lot, and ventured into the punk scene. Slam dancing was a new thing then. My sophomore year I started leaving punkdom and hung out with a country music friend of mine, and we drank a lot of Jack and coke, listened to Bocephus (and saw him in concert), and dipped tobacco. But that identity didn't stick much either. I then ventured into reggae and mj, and started experimenting with other drugs, including a fantastic lsd trip. I started listening to the Dead.
Back then, there were a couple of traveling "evangelists" that used to come to campus, named Sister Cindy and Brother Jed (no kidding, they got married and had a child named Evangeline). I enjoyed mocking them. But one day in a crowed lunchroom a dude from Campus Crusade sat down with me and went through their 4 Spiritual Laws booklet, and it really introduced me to the Biblical view of God and salvation. It was interesting, but not compelling. I also went to a couple of their dating seminars, which had some real wisdom.
Maranatha Campus Ministries
I met some Christians who were nice, and on a Wednesday night they invited me to hear a "speaker." I had no idea people held religious meetings on days other than Sunday. They opened up with weird singing and hand raising, but I just weathered that. The speaker Nick Pappas (yes, I still remember his name) was compelling, and he preached from Matthew 8, on how if our own children asked us for food, would we give them as rock, or a snake? Of course not. So how much more would God, who is perfect in love, give good things to those who come to him. "I am wasting my life without God's plan" I thought to myself. And when they asked people to stand up to receive Jesus, I did. I wanted that.
Real Change, Real Control
In the succeeding days and months, I had a genuine experience and positive changes. No one told me about "holiness," but I didn't want to sleep with my girlfriend anymore. I didn't want drugs or alcohol or even my angry music. I was an excited convert. I began getting involved in learning guitar and worship, things I really enjoyed.
But there was a growing dark side. The campus ministry I had joined was aggressive with Bible studies. As I got deeper into it, it began to poison me with many of the qualities of a controlling organization - elitism, emphasis on obedience to authority, over control of relationships and finance, militarism, social isolation from unbelieving friends and family, and demands to be part of the mission. For every good thing I learned from Christianity, it was undermined by Pharisaical and unhealthy approaches to scripture and life.
After almost 10 years in the organization, including going to nearly every quarterly and national meeting in various locations, my doubts began for a few reason, not least of which was my growing awareness that I was still deeply angry and hurt as a person. But my indoctrination made me look for healing only from trusted sources - which did not include counseling or psychology, or other wisdom traditions.
Thankfully, there was a growing "Christian psychology" and self-help movement which published books that put many common, helpful secular therapy methods and viewpoints into a Christian framework, which I trusted. I began my healing journey reading books by David Seamands, as well as the growing number of books on toxic faith, like Toxic Faith. I was realizing that the organization I was in was toxic, but I still held on to the idea that there might be a healthy version of the faith.
Graduation and Work
I got my BS in Biochemistry and began a 5 year stint doing cancer research at UNC-CH. I loved the science, and continued my church involvement, but I was looking for a way out. That came in the form of short term missions.
Healthy Faith Not Enough
A Christian missionary organization called YWAM came and did a presentation at my church, and I was impressed enough that I quit my job, took out my 5 years of retirement savings, and spent it on a 6 month missionary school in Hawaii. But my faith was in crisis, largely because my venture into self-help showed me that there was a lot of truth out there that I needed. It started with Tony Robbins' Awaken the Giant Within, and while at the missionary school, I was being profoundly impacted by Louise Hay's You can Heal Your Life.
Don't get me wrong, YWAM was way healthier than where I came from. I saw Christian girls in bikinis, and dudes with long hair and chin beards, but no one cared how you looked outwardly, there was a healthy emphasis on inward spirituality. They taught us to care for our inner lives, not just some outward mission or conformity.
Self-care is not Selfish
I had spent the previous decade hearing "don't focus on who you are, focus on who you are in Christ." That was some of the most toxic teaching I received because it kept me from embracing and caring for my self and my gifts, and perpetuated not only any insecurities and self-loathing I had from childhood and my Christian experience, but kept me from exploring my wounds so that they could be healed.
Both Hay and Robbins were teaching me that I had to know, grow, and appreciate who I was created to be, even if I had flaws.
Back to the Real World
I got back to regular life and didn't want to go back to my lab job. But I had no other prospects. And my inner life was crying out for healing. For two years, I worked temp secretary jobs and worked on my inner life. After that, I got an IT job which I have grown into a career since. But during the next few years, I spent less time in church, and worked through a few stages which you might be interested in.
1. Unlearning with A Course in Miracles
One of the difficulties in determining what is true after you have been indoctrinated with a combination of truth and error is that it's nearly impossible to separate them. If you have a glass half full with dirty water, you can't clear it up by adding clean water, you have to dump it out first. I realized that in order to figure out what was true about myself, life, and God, I had to discard all of what I had and start over.
The first 10 lessons of the 365 student exercises in ACIM are about unlearning, and trust me, the exercises are good. This not only made me abandon Christianity, it helped me clean the slate to learn again. Note that ACIM books and materials use Christian language and symbols, but are not really orthodox Christianity, very different stuff.
2. Inner Child Work
My reading in David Seamands introduced me to inner child work (which is based on Erikson's 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development), and in conjunction with the exercises in Bradshaw's Homecoming, I learned to love the parts of my self that were stunted in my emotional development, and helped me forgive my parents for their divorce and other screwups.
3. Masculine Identity Work
Having grown up without a father in a feminist home, and being shy and bookish, I never really felt like a man. A friend of mine who went through ex-gay counseling gave me a book by Andy Comiskey entitled Pursuing Sexual Wholeness. Even though I was not gay, a chapter on seeing and becoming the true masculine really affected me, and that, along with a poorly named and now out of print book explaining the true masculine as typified in three archetypes: warrior, wildman, and king. This helped me so much to see myself not as macho, but as a man who *could* be a man.
Buddhism and Yoga
By now, I was not attending church, and not Christian, but I wasn't anti-theist or atheist. I was just exploring everything I had not previously. I started doing yoga with Rodney Yee on video, and enjoyed a growing health as I practiced self care. Jack Kornfield's books taught me about Buddhist meditation, specifically non-judgmental observation. This practiced not only helped me stop judging myself, it allowed me to listen compassionately to myself and others.
Reasons I Left Christianity
There were many reasons I left, and some of these issues I have since resolved. However, here they are:
1. The tribal nature of the story of Israel and blood sacrifice
2. The injustice of eternal conscious torment in hell
3. The reality of wisdom and virtue in other traditions and people in those traditions
4. The healing truth I found in other traditions, and in psychology
5. The need to detox and start my journey over
Fears I Dealt With
1. Losing my salvation
2. Rejection by peers
3. Fear of being deceived
4. Lack of understanding from both Christians and atheists
5. Unknown amount of time for me to heal and be in career and personal limbo
My journey has stabilized, but I don't want to share my landing point yet. My journey out of Christianity and across the desert was tough. It took me about 10 years. But I do want to hear other people's stories, and share my own. Hope this was helpful for you. Questions and comments welcome.
Resources that Helped Me
Healing for Damaged Emotions (Christian Psychology / Self-help)
Putting Away Childish Things (Christian Psychology / Self-help)
You Can Heal Your Life (Self-help)
Awaken the Giant Within (Self-help)
Pursuing Sexual Wholeness (Gender Identity)
The Real Man Inside (Gender Identity)
A Course in Miracles (ACIM)
A Course in Love (ACIM)
Love is Letting Go of Fear (ACIM)
Out of Darkness Into Light (ACIM)
Homecoming (Inner Child)
Toxic Faith (Spiritual Abuse)
Churches That Abuse (Spiritual Abuse)
Healing Spiritual Abuse (Spiritual Abuse)
A Path With Heart (Buddhism)
Vipassana Meditation for Beginners (Buddhism)
Dance of a Fallen Monk (Self-help)