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Feeling psychologically diminished after a life of growing up in the church

By Josh ~

I officially decided to abandon Christianity one year ago. At that time I felt a huge burden of relief, but I still find myself trying to cleanse my brain of years of conditioning that leaves me with constant guilt, self-doubt, and indecisiveness. I feel a deep need to share my story as I continue to bring closure to this aspect of my life.

I was born into what I now see as a perfect case example of a fundamentalist cult-like subculture of America. My father was a youth pastor and my mother was a stay-at-home homeschool mother. I was raised to believe Evolution was an anti-God conspiracy, Christianity is under attack in America, sexual thoughts are the equivalent of adultery, and kissing before marriage is shameful. There never was any question of whether I was a Christian or not, it was just part of my assumed identity whether I liked it or not. I always knew this and felt this burden. I knew that whether I believed it or not, it didn't matter to my family. It was their sole reason for existing, for me as their child to abandon it was simply unthinkable for me. I refused to consider it. This is despite my doubts kicking in as early as I can remember being aware of my thoughts.

The basic problem of interventionist prayer was obvious to me around the age of 5 or so, when I was trying to mentally piece together how God would physically alter the universe in a way that would be undetectable or surprising. I couldn't come up with anything that made sense, but I couldn't throw it out either, so I pushed my awareness of my disbelief and would hope that someday I would understand what others understand. This was a pattern that became second-nature to me and continues to this day - I still repress my strong gut feelings and doubt my strongest intuitions in the assumption that someone else knows whats right.

I believed in all the testimonials and promises of whatever-the-hell this great feeling is that people get from God and prayer and worship. I tried and tried and tried and tried but nothing ever made sense. Nothing ever felt right. When I was 11 I was emotionally moved by a Christmas play and combined with my feeling of guilt for not accepting Christ yet, I decided to publicly declare faith and get baptized. The main thought I remember having was, that was it? I feel nothing. But I continued with the painful act to make my family happy.

I love reading and debating, and around age 13, with access to the internet I would express my opinions on forums where I encountered people who were adamantly NOT Christian. Due to being home-schooled and later put in Christian schools, this was not something I was used to. I had to seriously defend my beliefs under very harsh and uncompromising criticisms. I used every explanation and trick you could possibly learn in apologetics, but my arguments crumbled one by one. I was not too stupid to realize my arguments were flawed, as I would continue to research every point with extreme discrimination and find the Christian side comes up wanting time and time again.

This put me in a state of intellectual denial for about 10 years. I would go to church and hear the flaws in every statement, but try to battle myself into believing it. I reached a point where I mentally compromised with myself and said it was OK to go with the Christian facade as long as I still believed in some sort of God...but this is not what Christianity asks. Every branch of Christianity has extremely specific criteria to describe God, and I clearly didn't believe in the Christian God.

When I would hear people describe themselves as agnostic or atheist, I would feel jealously. I would feel inadequate, because that was what I wanted to believe but I wouldn't let myself. Self-doubt and self-loathing continued, coming from my realization that I was living a lie.

I didn't date or reach out to people that I wanted to be friends with. My loyalty to the lie of my Christian lifestyle wouldn't let me. I wanted to date girls so bad, but my inability to connect with an non-Christian and my disinterest in Christians left me in a double-bind.

I was always terrified internally that people would ask my what my faith is. At best I could admit that I was kinda-religious. But even that was an exaggeration.

After going through some emotionally difficult periods, I plunged into self-help books to help train my mind to be more optimistic, have greater self-esteem, anything to make myself feel better, more alive, and more like a worthy person. Ironically it was my mother that gave me "The Road Less Traveled" - and it was in reading this book that I found the internal strength to say No, I am not a Christian and I do not believe the Bible. That moment was beautiful. I felt justified and confident in facing my beliefs.

Fast-forward a year later and I am still not a Christian, but I have a multitude of lingering thoughts and impulses stemming from the ethic and lifestyle that I used to live by. Some are downright repulsive, such as the thought that homosexuals are responsible for AIDS and don't need sympathy. Others are annoying and intrusive, such as useless sexual guilt and a tendency to place others feelings/views/judgments/needs as more valid than my own.

I feel like these thoughts are burned into my brain from literally 22 years of self-denial and brainwashing. Thankfully I found alternative views on the internet starting at such a young age, or I most likely would still be living with my family, going to church every Sunday, and not on my path towards independent self-realization. Also I can have sex now, which is pretty cool.