Hi guys! I'm 23 years old male about a year out of college, and officially decided to leave religion about 6 months ago. This has simultaneously been the best and scariest decision of my life. I think parts of my story are fairly unique, even for a forum labeled "ex-Christians". I grew up with a Catholic mom and an evangelical dad. I sort of got the "worst of both worlds" so to speak, the rigid authoritarianism and superstition of the Catholic church, along with the loony politics and weird spirituality of the Pentecostal evangelical movement.
My parents met at a college Christian group that was associated with a larger organization called the "Sword of the Spirit". As far as I can tell, the Sword of the Spirit is fairly unique as far as cults go. There are actually some quite positive aspects of it. For example, it calls for the unity of all Christians (hence my mom and dad), and the craziest elements of cults were noticeably absent (for instance, I am unaware of any abuse scandals, and there is more democratic leadership as opposed to one tyrannical leader). Nonetheless, I would consider it a cult for a few reasons. First is how the people inside the group acted. Almost all of my parents' friends were members of the community, and this was not uncommon. This bubble created an environment were critical thinking was almost nowhere to be found. Second, there was a heavy emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gifts of tongues and prophecy. Almost everyone in the group (including me) believed that the Lord could talk authoritatively through them into their own and other people's lives. Finally, there was a feeling of superiority, that we were somehow a "chosen people" by God, called for a crucial task in serving the Church. My dad implied multiple times that he believed the community was the most important thing happening on Earth right now. There was even a famous prophecy to back it up, that the Sword of the Spirit was a "bulwark" for God's kingdom, that our communities were the first line of defense that God had placed on Earth to protect his church from Satan (this seems almost laughable now considering how little impact we actually have on the church as a whole, evidence by the fact that I guarantee you've never heard of us).
I was a gullible and neurotic child and really took everything my parents taught me to heart. I remember being kept up at night as a child, terrified of hell and Satan. I had a difficult time making friends, not so much because I was an abnormally awkward kid, but because my parents didn't allow me to watch the same movies and play the same video games and go to the same birthday parties as the other kids. They were always very strict and over-sheltering, which I believe stunted my social growth.
We moved when I was in middle school, which made things even more difficult for me. Towards the beginning of high school, I began to take my faith more seriously, and became obsessed with different parts of the Bible. I developed Scrupulosity, or "Religious OCD", and suffered from it throughout high school. My mental health really took a turn for the worse toward my 10th grade year, which prompted me to research my condition. When I finally picked up the courage to tell my dad about my illness, he didn't believe me. Due to this I never received the treatment I should have. This was the beginning of my crisis of faith that eventually led to where I am today.
I remained a devoted follower of Christ into college, and even went to a college where I could be a part of the campus outreach run by the community, but I began questioning things. I started realizing that people never had great answers for me. This didn't particularly bother me, since my main reason for believing in God was that I "knew" Him directly through personal experience. But it did start to wear away at the "solid foundation" that I had been given as a child, and I stopped accepting things like Creationism and the absolute inerrancy of the Bible.
Ironically enough, it was one of these so called "experiences of God" that caused me to drop my faith altogether. In the summer of my sophomore year, I attended a conference put on by the community. A lot of Christian groups emphasize "sexual purity", but few I've ever seen are as rigid about it as the Sword of the Spirit. As an ecumenical group, they combine the absolute paranoia of evangelicals with emphasis on life-long celibacy of the Catholics. At the conference, the speaker called us to consider taking a year off of dating. I had not been allowed to date in High School and really not had much success in college (shockingly!), but I felt the "movement of the Spirit" and had a religious experience that seemed to confirm what the speaker was saying. I got a chance to pray with him later, and he assured me that this impulse decision would be difficult, but that the Lord would bless me abundantly for it.
About four months later, I fell head over heels for a beautiful girl who worked at the front desk of my dorm. Not only that, but she really liked me too! We would laugh and talk for hours at the front desk. I had never had this effect on a girl I liked before. One small problem: I had made a commitment to the Creator of the universe that I would not date for the year. Every impulse in my body (literally haha) wanted to break my oath, but I knew that although the year would be a struggle for me, the Lord would "bless me abundantly" at the end.
Long story short, one of my best friends grew tired of waiting for me to ask her out and did it himself. And they're still dating to this day, over 3 years later. Not only did this rock me to the core, but it really hurt my relationship with my friend as well. I grew depressed and really started questioning. Was this really God's plan, to ruin my whole life over an impulse decision after a religious experience? I still cannot deny the experience itself, but I started questioning my interpretation of it. Was it really God, or was I swept away by the music and the hundreds of people around me who were just as into it as I am?
I moved away from my home after college for work, and to really take time to think about these things on my own. I began listening to lectures by people like Sam Harris and Bart Ehrman, and came to the intellectual conclusion that I had known deep down for years: this stuff just doesn't make logical sense. The fear of hell from my childhood and the anxiety from potentially losing friends and family were the last things that held me back, but about 6 months ago I decided it just wasn't worth it. Religion had cost me far too much. It made me constantly anxious, and socially inept. I hated the person I was becoming, and I needed a change.
I still struggle socially, and especially sexually, but I am slowly getting better. I'm still going through quite a bit though. I'm actually starting to be comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life! Despite this, I'm struggling to make friends. I'm struggling to get more than 3 dates with a girl. And last but not least, I'm struggling with finally coming out to my parents about my new beliefs (or rather, lack there of). I have no idea how they will respond to the idea that their first born son will be spending eternity in hell. I still get anxiety and panic attacks from time to time. I'm currently seeing a therapist, and she's great, but you can tell that deep down she can't really relate to what I'm going through. I guess that's why I joined this site. I still desperately crave the "community" aspect of the community, the support and love they gave me, no matter how judgmental it truly was. So I look forward to joining in discussions here, and I really hope I get the support, and can give the support, that I believe I need in this scary time of my life.