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How Living in the Bible Belt Destroyed My Faith

By Positivist ~

I am new to, and I have to admit it has become a lifeline to me in this final phase of my transition from fundamentalist, charismatic believer to agnostic atheist. Here is my story.

From NARA, ARC Identifier: 541337 NARA's capti...Image via Wikipedia
I grew up in a Christian home and from a very young age I was obsessed with Truth. I remember when I was six years old I started reading my dad's theology books, in between bouts of reading Little House on the Prairie and Nancy Drew. I also remember having an intense fear of end times. I was fairly certain, even at that young age, that I would end up in a concentration camp one day for being a Christian. I carried this fear with me all the way into my twenties, and it is this fear that cause me to make some very big decisions in the most unnatural ways. After all, we were told at all church and youth meetings, “You are the generation!” I made career and education decisions based on my eschatological views, rather than on personal attributes, abilities, interests, or inclinations.

In my preteen and early teen years, I began to have difficulty with the concept of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. I felt terribly about this, because I knew then that my salvation was at stake. I remember our youth group starting to read John Stott’s Basic Christianity, and I was so desperately hoping that I would find the answers I needed in it. However, I was disappointed; I found the arguments circular and requiring pre-existing belief. Also around this same time I began thinking about the social construction of religion. I didn't know the term “social construction” at the time but in essence, I spent a great deal of time in church thinking about the seeming lack of congruence of the “truths” spoken in church and about the seeming irrelevance of church beliefs to life on the outside of the four walls of the church. In spite of my doubts, I was continually grateful that I was born into a family that was perfect and that knew the Truth. How did I ever get to be so lucky? In my ongoing doubts about my salvation, I knew that my family's faith would somehow save me.

My obsession with Truth continued into my twenties. Since my teens I had attended charismatic churches, and I couldn't understand why not everyone could see the truth and join a charismatic church. God was moving here! God was present! God heals! Who doesn't want this? Any doubts I had during this period of my life I glossed over with faith and leaned on God to make it all make sense, or at least make me forget the questions and ignore the nagging doubts. I hated myself for my doubts, because I knew I was living in Ultimate Truth, face fully turned to the blazing glory of what was my problem?

My boyfriends have always been deeply religious people. Our relationships were always bordering on platonic, avoiding “even the appearance of evil”. I eventually connected with a self-proclaimed prophet. I just wanted more of God, and this guy had the gift of prophecy and healing, and I knew that we could minister well together. It would be so powerful! In fact, it is because of him that I didn't finish college. The world is going to end, ministry is better than education, and time is short. Eventually, my pastor talked me out of this mindset and I went back to school to finish my education. I am forever thankful for that conversation.

I was praying two hours a day, and most of this prayer time was worship; the rest of the prayer time, perhaps 15 minutes of it, was intercession. God was meeting me in these times. Some days it was so obvious that God had “read my mail”. I also fasted regularly, once for as long as 10 days. God “showed up” again and again in the times when I was on my face before Him. One thing I used to pray is that God would never let me fall away from Him. To me, this seemed a fate worse than death, worse than a terminal illness, worse than anything I could imagine. I would rather be tortured for having God, than tortured by not having Him in my life. I was very involved in the worship ministry of my Pentecostal church and I felt like I was living in the middle of Truth. I was involved in numerous para-church organizations. I did not watch secular movies and listened only to praise and worship music.

Then, a few things happened.

I moved to the Bible Belt. I found Christianity to be very different here than in the large urban centre from which I hailed.

For some reason, I started to see things from two opposing perspectives: that of a fundamentalist, and that of an outsider/skeptic. I credit the “seeker friendly church” movement with causing this schism in my thinking. Christian thoughts, words, and actions look completely different depending on where you stand. I was becoming of two minds. I started speaking two languages: Christianese, and (what was becoming my new) normal. At the same time, the Bible gradually stopped making sense to me. I begged the Holy Spirit to grant me understanding of what I was reading, but I would read the Bible and it would be like “blah, blah, blah”. I found this very disturbing. I was also increasingly incredulous at the atrocities and behavior of those in the Bible. When I went to church every Sunday, I was troubled by what I heard. Aggressive evangelistic techniques started to appear colonial and oppressive. The rampant anthropocentrism became abhorrent to me. And singing the praise and worship songs made me feel like I was trying to convince myself against best evidence. I might just as well have been singing “The earth is flat! The earth is flat!” to convince myself that it actually is not round. If I had such passion for the Truth, and if I had truly found it in charismatic and evangelical Christianity, why was I struggling so much with disbelief? This was a frightening time for me. I fought with everything I had but just kept on sinking.

Within the church, particularly in the Bible Belt, I grew increasingly unable to reconcile: the church's absence from social welfare, humanistic and social justice initiatives (except as a vehicle for evangelizing); the church’s extreme anthropocentrism and absence from animal welfare and environmental concerns (one of the church’s families even ran a puppy mill, saying God had “led” them to do so); the church’s obsession with prosperity; the view that unanswered prayer indicates something is God's will; the constant obsession with the next world rather than this one; and, the denial of evidence and constant encouragement to disregard evidence as "evil". These things caused considerable cognitive dissonance for me and I continued to slide into a major existential crisis.

At age 36, I became unwell and was diagnosed with a genetic/hereditary condition. Growing up, I had cared for my mother with the affliction, but I never thought I would develop the same condition, let alone a worse case of it: me, a cycling, praying vegan who is otherwise quite a happy and together person. Medication helps, but I will never be unencumbered again. I am unable to attend church because of my condition. This caused me to wonder, “Why won’t God let me come to His house?” As a worshipper who used to sing “Better is one day in Your house than a thousand elsewhere” and mean it, I was devastated that God would not at least enable me to attend church to worship him, to just suspend symptoms and triggers on this one morning per week, so I could bask in His presence. This condition is ruining my life, my career, my marriage and my faith. Prayer and fasting has had no impact; I continued to worsen. Christians were blaming me for this genetic/hereditary condition and had all kinds of advice which by this time I found ridiculous, although hurtful. So, long story short, chronic pain, ultimately, has made an atheist out of me. I literally lack the capacity for faith. It’s like it’s been amputated, or like it’s withered, died and fallen off.

I am tired. I am tired of a lifetime of backflips and contortionist maneuvers to make things of faith make rational sense. I have always been troubled by the fact that huge apologetics texts are required to explain away contradictions between verses of Scripture. In retrospect I am frustrated that I ignored the evidence for so long, and instead chose to become an intellectual contortionist to explain away the obvious. One can rationalize absolutely anything if one tries hard enough. Near the end of my Christian faith journey, I became tired of defending God for unanswered prayer or bad Bible verses. I am tired, but I am finally at peace.

In my journey to atheism, I have become more human. I'm finally free to love people. I'm finally free to associate with others without evangelical strings attached. It feels so good to be able to have friends and to lack ulterior motives for doing so. It feels so good to be able to enjoy a good feast with friends, and not feel like I have to go minister at the local jail after doing so. I no longer need to be judgmental. I despise the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”, because that is no love at all.

I do have some regrets. I wish I could apologize to all of my past colleagues for being such a fundy jerk. I was a nut bar, and I want to say sorry to all of my past coworkers, acquaintances (especially those who were obvious “sinners”—co-habiters, gays/lesbians/trans/queers, blasphemers, and so on). I also wish I had chosen a different career. I made my career decision based on my belief in God, my eschatology, and my limited understanding of the role of women in society, views that were rooted deeply in my fundamentalist upbringing. I also regret the love I threw away, the opportunities I discarded for a so-called higher calling, and sentimental objects I cast at the foot of the throne of God. I must remind myself that I made the best decisions I could with the information I had at that time.

Few people know of my de-conversion. I can't tell my family or my husband's family because they're fundamentalists, and it would destroy them to know that I have left the fold. I don't want them to feel they have to spend the last of their years on this Earth on their knees, praying for me. Goodness knows, it won't do any good.

Thanks for reading.