I’ve enjoyed this website for a couple of years and greatly appreciate the stories and insights shared by other ex-christians. I’m finally ready to tell my story. Following, is an abbreviated version of my journey out of religion. I could elaborate on any part, but for now will simply provide the big picture. Thanks in advance for ‘listening’. It feels good to share!
My background is similar to so many who have posted on this site. I was raised in a fundamentalist evangelical home with loving parents. I was ‘born again’ at an early age, and experienced numerous re-dedications as a teenager and young adult. By age 30, the same deeply ingrained belief system continued to hold me captive as I surrounded myself with other believers, participated in church activities at every opportunity, and began homeschooling my kids out of fear of the ‘world.’ My children (now adults) grew up to be replicas of myself and are now deeply immersed in their own religious lives. The cycle continues…..
Like so many believers, in ignorance I held preconceived ideas about ‘others.’ People with other beliefs were simply wrong and didn’t realize it. Proponents of evolution were victims of demonic delusion and had a deep-rooted, subconscious intent to steer people away from the ‘truth’. Public schools and universities were breeding grounds for misinformation and delusion. My mind was closed to any thought that did not align with my tightly held belief system. Concomitant with my beliefs, I also had a passion to pursue God and to know him ‘aright’. My passion for truth led to cracks in my faith.
From early on, it never made sense to me that simply saying some words (the sinner’s prayer) or voicing belief could convert someone from hell-bound to heaven-bound. To me, eternal life had to mean more. For 10 years, I immersed myself in the writings of Christian mystics like Jean Guyon, Frank, Laubach, and Thomas Kelly. I came to see eternal life as an experience of inner transformation in which one receives the life of Christ (eternal life) as he/she surrenders completely and wholly to the inner working of the Holy Spirit. John 17:3 became my mantra as I sought to ‘know’ God and to practice the presence of God within my being. During this same time, I was introduced to the writings of George MacDonald (mentor of C.S. Lewis). In agreement with MacDonald, I began to think that popular theologians had it all wrong. A truly loving heavenly father could not and would not require a brutal death of his own son to atone for sin. Eternal life was something different altogether. It was really about experience… deep transformation of consciousness that carried into eternity. Through the Internet, I discovered that many others (universalists) shared my views and for a time I found great comfort in those shared beliefs. Needless to say, at the time, my views were not welcome by my church leaders. At age 47, my husband and I quit going to church and I continued to pursue spirituality on my own.
The last thread of belief broke when I witnessed unexpected tragedy in the lives of several good friends. I realized that natural law did a much better job of explaining ‘good people and bad things’ than pat answers, “God’s ways are above our ways” and “we’ll understand when we get to heaven.”Around age 44, when my children were grown, I decided to return to school for a master’s degree in my field of work. I enrolled in a state school with both face-to-face and online classes. For the first time, I encountered frequent contact and meaningful interaction with others who thought differently than I did. I began to see that good people could hold differing opinions and I became more open to hearing divergent ideas and rationale. My love of learning and research continued, and at age 49 I began a PhD program at a prominent secular university. A favorite professor told my cohort at the start, “You will be different individuals when you complete your PhDs.” I couldn’t imagine what she meant…. but she was right.
Over the following four years, I gained an increasing appreciation for the value of objectivity, reason, logic, rational thought, and scientific evidence. I came to see that any opinion or belief could be subjected to hypothesis testing, and that in fact, just such research (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17253449) failed to support the belief in intercessory prayer. Scientific methods and statistical probability opened my mind to new ways of thinking. I became a proponent of critical thought and intellectual honesty.
As for spirituality, I held onto my belief in an intimate, loving father as long as I could. The last thread of belief broke when I witnessed unexpected tragedy in the lives of several good friends. I realized that natural law did a much better job of explaining ‘good people and bad things’ than pat answers, “God’s ways are above our ways” and “we’ll understand when we get to heaven.” As a last vestige of my faith, I cried out (as I did every night) to my loving heavenly father, “Father, my faith is waning. Do something to show me that you’re real! Give me an unmistakable sign (that defies statistical probability) to show me that you hear me.” My pleas were met with silence.
Today, at age 56, I am happy and thriving. Fortunately, my husband (and best friend) traveled this journey alongside me. He also sees the delusion of religion and we’ve both moved on to better lives, genuine friendships, and a deeper appreciation of the beauty and fragility of life. The only blot in our journey has to do with our children who we love dearly. I feel as if we’ve left them behind. They remain under powerful influences that are virtually impossible to break free from. I also have grandchildren who are being raised in the Christian faith. We love getting together with them but avoid uncomfortable conversations about religion. I’m not even sure if our kids fully grasp our unbelief, as they never ask and seem uncomfortable with the subject. I long for openness and candid discussion.
Sadly, I’ve found that few professing christians today will engage in open, honest dialogue about religious belief…. a confirmation to me that religious faith is founded on many factors other than intellectual honesty. May those of us who have traveled the road to freedom find opportunity to speak with confidence and clarity, and share our journeys with those who will listen.
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