Probably one of the earliest memories I have is in a church. My entire life I was dragged, kicking and screaming, from bed each Sunday morning to be dressed up, have my hair pulled and tugged, and carted off to the Sunday morning sermon. I hated every second of it.
Nonetheless, at age 6, I more or less officially became ‘born again’. I grew up in a rather well-established Southern Baptist church, mostly populated by upper middle class white people and their kids. My mother had grown up pentecostal, and my father’s family was on their boat more often than in a pew on Sundays. Still, it was only natural that I become saved.
I was an intelligent kid, and I understood the adult’s service’s messages pretty clearly–get saved, or go to hell. I understood the concept of eternal damnation well even then, so I wasted no time.
Fast forward about nine years. The pastor that had been at our church for longer than I’d been alive was retiring and moving away. We had an interim pastor until the pastor search committee, whom my mom was a part of, sifted through applications of hopefuls.
They decided on a man, and the church voted overwhelmingly for him. There was a group of discontented members who wanted a long-time assistant pastor to take the old pastor’s place, but ultimately they turned him down in favor of this young man from Texas.
Long story short, the man wasn’t as clandestine as he appeared, and the interim pastor was back. The search committee was blamed and antagonized for the oversight. The treatment was so hard on my mother we ended up leaving the church and attending a new one. Shortly thereafter, my mother divorced my father because of the years of verbal and emotional abuse she’d suffered.
It was about then that I began searching for God in earnest. I felt at home in the new church’s youth group, and wanted desperately to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus. I prayed every single night.
Jesus never returned my calls.
Don’t get me wrong, I had some truly spiritual experiences while attending camps and the like. But I found that I had changing attitudes on things like gender and sexuality, and I had begun to doubt the absoluteness of the bible. There were things that simply weren’t able to be integrated into faith that were scientifically proven to be true.
I stopped believing about a year ago. Of course, I still went to church, I still called myself a Christian, but I would find myself playing the devil’s advocate in religious debates more often than not, always thinking how dense people were for not having an open mind.
And then, finally, I just…stopped.
I realized that I wasn’t really a Christian anymore, and that I was leaning heavily to becoming a pagan. I was kept awake one night, reading losingmyreligion.com, because there was a desperate fear, although I didn’t truly believe it, that I was going to be damned forever. My logical mind told me the bible was too contradicting, that hell was a matter of scaring people into faith. But such long-held beliefs, drilled into my head since I was a baby, made my anxiety shoot through the roof.
In the end, I suppose I’m all right. The path I follow is more real to me. It doesn’t make me hate myself. I saw the politics, the hypocrisy, the fear-mongering, the corruption, the intolerance of the church, and I walked away. And I believe I’m a happier person for it.