Hello all. My name is Nathan and I am 29 years old. I stumbled upon this wonderful site several days ago. This is my first public account of my Christian experience which ended 12 years ago.
At the age of fourteen I dated a very sweet girl for a brief period of time. She asked me to go to church with her and it was there that I experienced a magical phenomenon: Acceptance. The men all shook my hand, the ladies gave me hugs, and everyone smiled at me and treated my like a welcome guest.
Naturally, I was quite eager to return the following Sunday. After the youth group meeting, the youth pastor took me aside and showed me the "Romans Road" to salvation and I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior.
I embraced my new life with every fiber of my being. By the time I was seventeen, I was singing in the choir, taking part in prayer groups with the men of the church, giving brief sermons in Sunday school twice a month, and I had even preached to the main adult congregation of the tiny church at a few Wednesday night services. The stories of visiting missionaries moved me, so much so that I pledged that I would become a missionary myself.
During summer camp that year, I found my mind wandering. I'd been bored during a service before, but that week I suddenly found myself terribly apathetic during the nightly church sessions. I was good with computers, and so I started to think that I might want to pursue a related career after high school. But I PROMISED to the god that I would be a missionary in front of the whole church!
As the pastors of the various churches present did their preaching that week, I used the time to really think about things. For the first time it consciously dawned on me that many of the decisions I had been making had been made for the feeling of acceptance it brought. Sure, I believed that what I was doing was the right thing, but more than that I craved the praise from my chosen moral authorities.
It consciously dawned on me that many of the decisions I had been making had been made for the feeling of acceptance it brought. All this thinking (along with a bit of subtle persuasion from Satan, no doubt) lead me to dangerous territory. I began to explore the notion that I could decide what I wanted to do. I could even decide what I wanted to believe! Just trusting the god about things that had concerned me just wasn't satisfactory anymore. Did all the people in the far corners of the world who had never heard of Jesus go to Hell? What the hell is up with dinosaur bones in a world that is only a few thousand years old? The dam had broken, leaving me to fight for my life in a deluge of unanswered questions.
I was quiet about the changes at first. Later that summer I attended another youth retreat sponsored by the church's favorite fundamentalist college. Before I left, I conceded to a dare from my girlfriend to let her paint my fingernails. My youth minister definitely wasn't happy about that. He questioned me thoroughly as he took me to a nearby gas station to buy nail polish remover and forcibly clean the homosexuality off my fingers. I did my best to avoid the truth, and stretched it when I couldn't. I told him that I had been listening to Christian Rock music, when actually Satan had introduced me to that nonsense long before my ordeal began and the real truth was far worse.
Growing more concerned about me, my mentor decided to drop in on me unannounced while I was alone in the hotel room engaging in shameful behavior. I tried to hide what I was doing, but I was using my friend's CD player at the time, and it just so happened that the volume knob operated in the opposite direction of my own player, causing me to crank the music up loud enough to be heard by others through the headphones.
He demanded to know what I was listening to, so I handed him the CD. He stared at the label in shock. Marilyn Manson. When he spoke, he let me know that he was very upset at me for "inviting Satan on the trip with us." I told him I didn't believe in Satan, but that was just more evidence that I had chosen to side with Mr. Satan, an opinion that he gladly announced to all my friends there.
Relief came the next evening in the form of my parents, who drove six hours to rescue me from the angry, raving lunatic that had formerly been my mentor and dearest friend. I kid you not, the guy threatened to "knock [my] teeth in" when I said I didn't believe that the presence of my Marilyn Manson paraphernalia was allowing Satan in to physically molest his three year-old son that night after the contraband was discovered. The preacher and youth director had a long talk with my parents when they arrived. From what I heard they were neither impressed nor relieved when my dad shrugged and told them that his favorite band was Black Sabbath when he was my age.
I went through an experimental phase after that. I studied a plethora of books and websites about Buddhism, Wicca, and Satanism to name a few. I even backslid for a month or two back into Christianity (albeit a non-"fundamentalist" version of it,) which I simply outgrew and threw away like an old pair of pants. In the end I learned to be honest with myself and to believe what I felt was true deep inside my heart, instead of following some book because I wanted to be a crusader or learn to cast Magic Missile.
I am an atheist. Awareness of the infinite, dark and empty reaches of space do not cause me to love my family, love my friends, or tolerate everyone less than a command from a vengeful deity might. If anything, life is more precious to me now.
(*My relationship with my mother improved dramatically after my parents' divorce. Love you, mom. :)
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