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My Story and a Question about "Coming Out" as a Non-Christian

By Sebastian Phoenix ~

Well, I suppose the first thing I should do is share my story. So here goes nothing. I am a 21 year old male, living with my parents in a small town in Alabama. Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of my family is Christian- both of my parents, all of my siblings (I am the youngest of four children), all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. For the first 13 year or so of my life, I went to an Advent Christian church. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's pretty much one step shy of being a Jehovah's Witness. My parents did not identify as Advent Christian, however, my maternal grandfather was the church's pastor, and the majority of the congregation (which, by the time we stopped attending, was a whopping 10 people) was made up by my extended family, and they would always get offended when we attended any other church instead of theirs. I attended Christian schools my entire life and it honestly never even occurred to me to question what I had been taught. I just accepted it as truth. I think one reason I never entertained the thought of doubting "God" was the fear of "being punished" (in other words, going to Hell). Between my old-fashioned grandparents and the strict Southern Baptist teachers at some of the schools I attended, I had been instilled with this view of God as this angry kid with a magnifying glass standing over an anthill, just waiting for me to screw up just once so he'd have an excuse to send me to a place of eternal torment, just because he could. Anytime I would do (or even think) something "wrong", I would immediately fall to my knees and beg for God to forgive me. I guess as a child, I can understand why all those things they told me would have scared me into compliance, but as an adult, all they would makes me want to do is look God dead in the eyes and say "Fuck you".

All this fire and brimstone theology went out the window when I was around 13. My mom works as a home health nurse, and one of her patients was a baby with heart problems. After making several trips their, she made friends with his mother, and her oldest son told my mom that if I wanted to come over with her, he'd give me free guitar lessons (I had been expressing the desire to learn to play for some time now). So I started accompanying my mother on her visits, she would do her nursing stuff and I would learn to play guitar. Very soon, this guy started inviting me to his church. He said that before their youth meetings, they had this thing called "Guitar circle", which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Some people sitting around in a circle, playing their guitars. So I went, and it was completely different from anything I'd ever heard before. For the first time, instead of hearing about a God of wrath and vengeance, I was hearing all about the loving, forgiving side of God. And immediately, I fell in love with it. I remember hearing the pastor say once, "Keep the 10 Commandments on your wall to remind yourself that you can't keep them." Finally, I don't have to watch what I say or do. I can do whatever I want, because I know God will forgive me. This is when I went through my quasi-rebellious phase. I started swearing and listening to rock and metal music. I started really getting hostile toward my parents. I developed a huge resistance to any kind of authority. I started hanging out with what I guess you would call a "questionable" crowd and getting in trouble at school on an almost daily basis. But whatever I did, I could always justify it and still call myself a Christian. This phase lasted about three years.

Around age 16 is when I first denounced Christianity all together. I was angry, I was depressed, and I thought, if God really gave a shit about me, he wouldn't allow me to be so miserable. Honestly, I don't even remember why I was so unhappy. I think it had to do with girls or something. Either way, that's when I decided I wasn't a Christian anymore.

That didn't last too long. After about a year, I decided that I wanted to be a Christian again. Not sure why, nothing really happened to influence my choice there. I just felt like being a Christian again. So I said a prayer, asked for forgiveness from God from turning my back on him, and promised him that things would be different from now on. And they were. I continued to identify as Christian for about 2 more years. I looked for the most liberal, most lenient sects of Christianity that I could find so that I could put an official label on what I was, because I knew I wasn't an Evangelical Christian. Around age 19, I became... well, I'm not even sure what you'd call it. I was pretty much still a Christian without calling myself a Christian. I believe in God, I believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God, and I believed that I had a personal relationship with him, but I didn't want to call myself a Christian because I felt like Christianity was a "corrupt religion" and I didn't want to associate myself with religion. I kept my mind open and tried to learn as much about as many different ideologies as possible, but the more and more I studied the Bible, the less and less sense it made to me. Soon, I discredited the legitimacy of the Bible all together, but still retained most of my other stances. Eventually, after really studying about Jesus and how much he contradicted himself, I gave up on my belief in his divinity. I am now an agnostic theist. If you don't know what that is, look it up.

I said all that to say this: I still have yet to tell my parents that I'm no longer a Christian. I have a very good relationship with my parents, and I tell them almost everything. Religion isn't something that comes up in conversation with them every day, but it comes up enough to make me uncomfortable. We haven't gone to church regularly in years, but they'll occasionally find a church that they want to visit, they always invite me, and I always just say "No thanks". I don't like lying to them or keeping secrets from them, but I really don't want them to be disappointed or have a "Where did we go wrong?" kind of reaction. I know they won't disown me or shun me and they'll love me just the same, but I know it will hurt them and that's what I'm worried about. If anyone has any advice, it would be greatly appreciated!