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Out of the darkness and into the light

By ExPenty --

Hello, everyone. I've been a lurker here for some time, and only really started posting comments quite recently. When I first started reading this site regularly I was still a Christian. I just wanted to see what things looked like from the perspective of ex-Christians, and to understand why they had made the leap from faith to non-faith. As time went on, however, I found myself agreeing more and more with the things that were written here.

I was raised in a nominal Christian family and society (in the UK, so it was more "nominal" than many of you on the other side of the Atlantic are used to). My family, though not churchgoers, believed strongly in God and sent me off to Sunday School at the local Pentecostal church every week from a very young age.

I had a conversion experience in the late eighties at the age of sixteen, and it didn't take long for me to become really "on fire" for God. I couldn't get enough of the Bible, I went to all the church services and events I could, I devoured every Christian book I could lay my hands on... basically, I was hooked. I'm the kind of person who thinks that if something is worth doing then it's worth throwing your whole self into it, and Christianity was no exception.

I miss the certainty, albeit false certainty, that came from being a believer, and I miss the "knowledge" that I would survive my body's death and live for eternity in heaven, even though I know this was never a reality but only wishful thinking. My mother was "saved" before me, and within a year of my own conversion I led my sister to the Lord. I had people prophesying over me that God would use me for great things, and I really believed it, so much so that it became a self-fulfilling prophesy. I spent two years as a volunteer Christian worker, spending my time on evangelism and study. I went on to study theology at the largest evangelical theological seminary in Western Europe, and emerged not only with a degree in theology but also a practical diploma in evangelism. (These days I tend not to tell people about that last part when applying for jobs!) I taught, preached, evangelised, wrote articles, prayed in tongues, exhorted, led worship, went on missionary trips, led people to the Lord, and goodness knows what else. If I wasn't a True Christian™, nobody ever has been.

I've always been a deep-thinking introvert with a high IQ, so there had always been some issues with Christianity that didn't quite match up, but I was able to sweep them under the metaphorical carpet when I had the "support" of my fellow-believers to keep me on the straight and narrow. The more I thought about things, though, the more I realised that some of it just didn't stand up to scrutiny. I rapidly rejected creationism because it is contradicted by all the available evidence that I was aware of from studying geology in school. Soon afterwards, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues and the like went the same way. I was still a believer with a strong faith at this point though, albeit somewhat more liberal in my views than I had been previously.

About 4 years ago, my wife and I left the church. I won't go into the reasons, but it had more to do with a clash of personalities and the anti-intellectualism of the church than with any loss of faith. We originally intended to find another church, but as time went by and we didn't find one we liked, we ended up not bothering.

At this point my faith was still strong. I got my teaching from books and from blogs and other online discussions, but I still believed strongly in God. Later on, though, doubts began to surface. Why were my prayers seemingly never answered? Why was my wife, who has had a chronic illness for years and who has been prayed for by literally hundreds of Christians in a number of churches, still ill? Why did bad things happen to good people? Why did seemingly random natural disasters kill so many and reduce so many others to poverty if there was a loving God looking after us? I could find no satisfactory answers to these questions, nor to the many others that occurred to me.

Christians will tell you that being apart from the church, a "lost sheep" out on your own, is a bad thing because it can lead to you losing your faith. They are right about that in my case. Being apart from the indoctrination and peer pressure that came from well-meaning but misguided fellow-Christians, I was at last free to think for myself. That has led, via a long process that I won't bore you with here, to my current belief that there is probably no God. Certainly there is no evidence for God, which places him in the same category as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

It's only over the past month or so that I have reached this position. Before that I spent a long time thinking of myself as a Christian agnostic, holding the belief that although it was impossible to find proof one way or the other, God probably existed and I would live my life as though he did. Now I've gone one stage further and decided that if he did exist there would be evidence, thus he cannot exist.

I miss the certainty, albeit false certainty, that came from being a believer, and I miss the "knowledge" that I would survive my body's death and live for eternity in heaven, even though I know this was never a reality but only wishful thinking. I also still find myself automatically lapsing into my old patterns of thinking and behaviour now and then, as religion has been ingrained into me all my life and it's hard to switch of the patterns of behaviour even though I no longer believe in the God and the religion that led to those behaviour patterns in the first place. I suppose it's going to take a while for me to get the last of the indoctrination and conditioning out of my system.

I have not "come out" as an unbeliever to my friends and family yet. My wife is aware that I have doubted the existence of God at times, but as yet I have not told her I no longer believe God is real. Any tips on how best to break the news to her would be appreciated. We have a strong marriage, and her long illness has brought us much closer together, so I don't think it would threaten our marriage, but I don't want to hurt her either. She is currently still a believer, albeit one with no illusions about the toxicity of some other believers and their churches.

That aside, I've moved from the darkness of religion into the light of reason, and I'm much happier for it.