I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, mostly because I frequent groups or blogs or forums that focus on some variation of Christian themes. In it’s simplest form, the question is:
“Why did you leave Christianity?”
Sometimes it is just an honest question, often it is inextricably linked to the asker’s own ideas about why people leave and those ideas can usually be summed up as “You were doing it wrong to begin with.” In my experience, this can take two forms. The first is the blatant, “you didn’t really know God.” The second is the little less “in your face” but just as insulting “God isn’t who you want him to be or people in the church hurt you so you bailed”. It’s a sneaky way of saying that former believers are idolatrous, prideful and petty.
But sometimes it’s honest and it is in that spirit and for those people that I will do my best to answer the question.
I did experience some forms of spiritual abuse as a child and was raised on some questionable – at best – theologies. I moved forward from there though and throughout college held on to my beliefs even as they were shifted and remolded according to new teachings and new experiences. The first real challenge I faced as an adult Christian was experiencing a supportive and loving community that was decidedly not Christian. It REALLY threw me that I found such love and respect within this crowd of strangers, more than I had ever felt among believers. Still, I decided that I believed in Christ as the redeemer and decided to make that the foundation, to stop trading the theology of my parents for the theology of my professors and find what made sense to me.
I graduated from a conservative Bible college, married a boy I met there and we went on to find a church and start a family. We started out at a church whose people I still hold very dear, they taught us so much about generosity and the intimacy that can form between friends. They supported us through what was, to date, the worst experience of our lives.
We moved on from there for a few reasons, a little of that was hurt and disappointment, mostly it was just that we outgrew it and needed something different for our children.
We found a new church and I LOVED it there. They are well-known for their servant outreach and “love first” kind of focus. I felt comfortable there, even though my liberal theology and politics were in the minority, the focus was never on those issues but on how to serve our communities. The parking lot was full of “W” stickers but our car would not be keyed for its Obama sticker.
Eventually, however, the church offered a counseling class on overcoming same-sex attraction and I had to leave. I just couldn’t continue to support a church that was doing something that I felt was overtly harmful to a community of people, no matter how good and pure their intentions.
For a while, I sort of floated about, wondering if I should try out a UCC or even a Quaker meeting. But one day I just thought to myself, “what if you stepped outside of your position as a 21st century white American. What if you looked at this from a bigger place, from the universe, the whole of existence. Does any of this story make sense to you from there?”
The answer was a resounding “no” and sitting there that day, I felt a weight lifted from me. I felt free to love outside of the confines of god’s love and it was a fuller love because it came from me without coercion or even instruction. I didn’t feel angry, I just didn’t believe that the Bible was true. I didn’t believe that the god I thought I had encountered was really there. I didn’t believe that there was reason for me to believe this book over any other book, over any other spiritual teacher, over any other prophet. I found no reason to privilege this story over any other story.
So I stopped fretting and just enjoyed the unfettered nature of my feelings for a while. Eventually I determined that agnosticism suited me the best and landed there. I don’t think there is a god but I don’t believe we can be certain of these things so I’ve since come to call myself an agnostic atheist. Jim Gilliam’s video and book, “The Internet is my Religion” has resonated with me more than anything else that I’ve read or heard.
My husband and I had relative ease in this transition though some counseling helped with that. He had to get to a place where he understood that my disbelief was not a comment on his belief, that I still respected him and that I wasn’t going to pull our kids out of church or tell them that daddy is crazy (at least not for his religious beliefs!). It’s been mostly smooth sailing since then as far as dealing with being in a mixed-faith home. It helps that we share the same values.
I’d be happy to answer any more questions that people have as long as they come from a place of honesty and not one of fear or judgment.