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Coming Out as an Ex-Christian

By Jen ~

For the past year or so, I have been suppressing any inclination to delve into my lost faith. For a while it simply hurt too much. And then, eventually, I got to the point where I knew I didn't believe in God but at the same time couldn't figure out if I didn't NOT believe in God too. It's as though my belief and dis-belief have been tangled up together. But that in itself isn't easy to explain. My atheist boyfriend is sympathetic, but he can't understand the trauma and the broken-heartedness that comes from loosing one's faith. And, I have to be honest, I have kept my, as someone else on this forum put it, 'Paul to Saul' conversion completely hidden from my Christian friends and family.

Shift
Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr
I was a rebellious teenager but I did it in reverse of the way it's normally done. My immediate family was very non-religious. My mother was an ex-Catholic who practiced self-help as a new form of spirituality and my father was an atheist. When I was 12 a friend of mine from school pressured me into attending youth group and that evening I came home to declare I had accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Lord and Savior.

Immediately I became very devout. I started a Bible study club at my school. I played guitar in a praise band. I wore a "true love waits" ring on my left ring finger. I read through the Bible twice. I attended church at least once a week, normally twice. I wrote in a prayer journal at least daily.

Then I graduated high school early and moved to Uganda. My faith, by this point, had taken a few beatings as I had become more liberal and studied and was beginning to notice some contradictions in the Bible and the church that were becoming too difficult to swallow.

While I was in Uganda I began volunteering for a NGO in a squatter camp, essentially. Unbeknownst to me, the NGO was extremely religious and mission based. I witnessed multiple exorcisms. Demons were regularly talked about. There were witch doctors rumored to have performed child sacrifices and lived under the water with water demons for weeks on end.

And I began to wonder where God was in all of it. I couldn't match the God that I had a relationship with to the God who would permit everything I saw around me. The leader of this NGO suggested to me that God was testing me, like He had tested Job. I poured over Job to see if I could find any comfort in the story but only found nausea, depression, and an intense feeling of isolation.

Apparently, I failed my test.

When I returned from Uganda I moved to a state across the country from my family and began seeing a therapist who diagnosed me with vicarious traumatization, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and general anxiety disorder (GED). I told my therapist I desperately wanted to regain my faith. But the more I read up on my disorders, the more I realized that to try and shove my former faith to fit into my new world point of view was going to be excruciatingly painful.

So I dropped it. I stopped trying.

The other day I picked up the bookWhen God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God by T. M. Luhrmann. (I highly recommend it). She takes an anthropologists approach to understanding the history and the methods of 'modern American Christianity'. As I'm reading it, I find myself feeling nostalgic for church and my former Christian community, feeling relieved that I shouldn't consider myself naive for believing in the first place, and the sense that no matter how much I long for my former faith, it is no longer mine.

I'm still going to struggle with loosing my faith. It has been a difficult few years and I don't expect it to ever fully go away. In many aspects, my loss of faith has felt comparable to the loss of a loved one. It has been traumatic and heart wrenching and I have shed many tears over this long process.

I think in many respects one of the trickier aspects to this process has been loosing a very well defined identity. What do I call myself now? I'm not a Christian, though I respect those (I'm even occasionally jealous of those) who are. I'm not an atheist because I haven't ever been able say in utter confidence that I do not believe God exists. And the term agnostic has always seemed to not match where I am.

This forum has provided me with my answer. I declare today that I am an ex-Christian. It is a beautiful, terrible, wondrous thing to be.

And there it is. Praise be to God! But also, not really.

Good luck to you wherever you are on this very long path to hell and to freedom. I'm right there with you.


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