I grew up in a Christian family and was indoctrinated in Christian theology since before I can remember. When I got older, my family’s beliefs became my own. I accepted Christ when I was in sixth grade and in seventh grade I was baptized by the Power Team. For those who don’t know, The Power team is a group of muscle bound Christian evangelists who travel around the world sharing their personal testimonies and conducting feats of strength such as tearing phone books in half and bending thick metal poles. As a young boy, I was utterly amazed by them and ended up being submerged by a 300 pound ex-NFL lineman.
After being inspired by the Power Team, I steadily became more and more devout. By college, I was reading the bible every day, praying multiple times a day, going to church every Sunday, attending fellowship groups, surrounding myself with Christian friends, going on mission’s trips, volunteering within the church, and going to multiple bible studies a week. I was one of the most Christian Christians you would ever meet.
When I graduated Penn State, I found myself with more free time so I started to read a great deal. At first, I only read Christian books, but then I started to branch out. I became curious of other religions and what they believed. I started to read up on Islam, Catholicism, and Buddhism. Like many Christians, I was sheltered from other belief systems growing up so it was interesting to encounter new ways of looking at things.
The more I learned the more I began to struggle. Questions started lingering in my mind that that I could not answer. There are literally hundreds of thousands of belief systems out there so how do I know my beliefs are the Truth? I realized the odds of following the “one true” belief system were extremely low and the odds of being born into the right one were even lower. I started to realize I was biased towards Christianity due to my background.
This uncomfortable cognitive dissonance nagged me all through graduate school. Unfortunately, at that time in my life I did not have time to sleep much less research Christian truth claims. After graduate school, I started reading again and stumbled upon Letters to a Christian Nation while browsing through a local book store. This was the beginning of the end. I wish I could begin to explain the mixed emotions I felt when reading this book. On one hand, I would squirm as Sam Harris methodically and logically dismantled a Christian idea I held dear. On the other hand, I got a glimpse of free thought and I loved it. Here is someone questioning the authority of God’s Word. I didn’t know you could actually do that!
Unfortunately, reading these atheist books elicited inner turmoil which became almost unbearable. I decided that I needed to really sit down and figure what I believed so I started to methodically research the truth claims of Christianity. I discovered when held under the light of reason, logic, and science, Christian truth claims did not faire well.
In addition to finding what I thought to be irrefutable arguments against my beliefs, I was starting to make huge strides in my life with the help of eastern philosophy. My whole life, especially in high school and college, I have struggled with social anxiety. While Christian ideas have only allowed me to make very limited progress in overcoming it, eastern philosophies and meditation has helped me nearly overcome it nearly completely in a short period of time. In addition, I was feeling more peaceful, accepting and calm. I started to realize that there was wisdom outside of Christianity which further made me question the absolute truth of it and that I did not need Christianity to cope with life.
I started to realize that there was wisdom outside of Christianity which further made me question the absolute truth of it and that I did not need Christianity to cope with life.I this point, I decided to distance myself from Christianity to give myself some space to be more objective and also to see how it effected me spiritually. If Christianity was my girlfriend, I was taking a break from the relationship. I stopped going to bible study then stopped reading the scriptures, then stopped going to church every week. As I was doing this, I monitored my spiritual health to make sure I was not descending into moral depravity which is what many Christians claim happens when you walk away. What I discovered was surprising to me: Not only was I not killing and pillaging, I was noticeably happier. It was time to break up with Christianity.
I wish I could say the break up was easy but it was not. At times, I would miss the Christian community. At one point, I started going to church again rationalizing that no belief system was perfect. However, I just couldn’t do it. The hymns and rituals seemed so foreign to me. I realized I was a different person now and was no longer in love with Christianity. The spell was finally broken to borrow a Daniel C. Dennet analogy.
Other complicating factors made the break difficult as well. My roommate is an outspoken devout youth minister, I rent my place from my old church, and I live in Lancaster County which is one of the most Christian counties in the nation. I read somewhere that there are more churches in Lancaster county then in New York City which has sixteen times the population. I find this place oppressively Christian. It seems like everyone here is a Christian and all anyone wants to talk about is God and Jesus. Jesus Jesus Jesus God Jesus Jesus all the time. Sometimes, it drives me crazy, but I have learned to deal. On the bright side, I have become well versed in atheist apologetics and can really hold my own in a debate.
While I no longer consider myself a Christian, I still have respect for this belief system. Humility, other-centeredness, serving others, the emphasis on love, etc. are good teachings that have profoundly affected my life. Most of my friends are Christian. I am still friends with ex-girlfriend Christianity and we hang sometimes and it is cool. However, I’m pretty sure I will never date her again..
Walking away from Christianity has been one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I lived and breathed Christianity for 16 years of my life. However, I think it was the right decision for me. Whether it is the right decision for everyone god only knows ;)
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