I am no longer a Christian. It was a religion I identified with for about 25 years, struggled with for a decade, and finally gave up just a few months ago.
My intention in writing this is not to convince you one way or another. Your religion is your business, and your spiritual journey is your own. I’m writing this first and foremost to let people who struggle like I did know they are not alone. And I’m writing this for myself, to sort out how I feel and what I believe now.
It’s not an easy thing, leaving a religion. It’s gut wrenching and traumatic. It often involves dissolving or distancing yourself from important relationships, redefining your core identity, relearning how you see the world and react to it.
I guess the first question you’re probably wondering is why? Why did I leave a God I had a genuine connection with?
To be honest, I can’t really answer that. I’m in the middle of sorting it out for myself right now.
But I want to give you some snapshots from the journey so far in case you’re going through something similar.
Cognitive Dissonance is a Bitch
When I was in the pre-death stage of my Christianity, the cognitive dissonance would keep me up at night. It made me feel like my head was being split in two – which, in a way, it was.
Cognitive dissonance is something that happens when you hold two (or more) conflicting beliefs at the same time, or when your beliefs don’t match up with the evidence in front of you.
So, for instance, I wanted desperately to believe in a loving God. But the last 1700 years of Christian history – and the last 25 years of my own personal experience – told me He is more about power than love.
Cognitive dissonance feels horrible – gut wrenching, insomnia inducing, awful. But it was such a necessary part of my growth process. It was the catalyst for a much needed change in my life, a change that was so hard I wouldn’t have made it on my own.
By the time I left Christianity, I no longer really believed in heaven or hell (a gift I don’t take for granted). Nor did I believe that Christianity was the one true religion. So I wasn’t guilty because I was sending my soul to hell or betraying the one true God.
I felt guilty because there are some people in the Christian community who have been really kind to me, and I was worried that rejecting their religion was an indictment on their character as well.
(Hint: It’s not. My choosing not to be Christian doesn’t mean all Christians are wrong any more than my choosing not to be Hindu means all Hindus are wrong. What I choose to do with my spiritual life not that fucking important, on the grand scale of things.)
I was a part of an Episcopal church for a few years before my faith imploded and it’s full of genuinely decent people. Not God accepts you but also needs you to fundamentally change who you are people. Not we love you, and that’s why we need power over you people. Really loving, good people who accepted me the way I was – and am, now that I’ve left.
But that’s the thing – I still left. I wanted those few good people to be enough to cancel out all the pain I’d experienced in Christian circles before, all the evidence against a loving God over the past thousand years. But it wasn’t.
I had very little problem saying “fuck you” to the Evangelical Church and even to God himself. But I think my “thanks for everything, but I can’t stay” to the people in the Episcopal church will haunt me for a long time.
The Loss of a Friend
I’ve written about how God and I would talk before. Those experiences were and still are very real to me. The only difference is, now I don’t think he’s very nice after all and I don’t want to be friends anymore.
I didn’t realize how frequently we talked until I made the decision that he wasn’t welcome in my life anymore. I would send my hello? out into the spiritual void so frequently – when I first woke up in the morning, when I was scared by something in the news, when I was feeling joyful because I was outside and it was beautiful.
Then, suddenly: no hello going out and no hello coming back. It felt empty and quiet.
When you spend 25 years believing that your deity loves you and wants the best for you, then wake up to realize he’s been trying to control or eradicate people like you for thousands of years and has done a good fucking job of it – has even conscripted your own family to participate, all in the name of “love” – and that you almost let him
– the anger, my friend, is white fucking hot.
(Awesome side effect: I’m too fucking angry to be afraid of anything. Bring on the demons and talking to the dead and the sketchy-looking spell work because I Do. Not. Give. A. Shit. It can’t be any scarier than the God I just left.)
I’m trying not to burn any bridges I may want in my life later, particularly with my Christian family, but that’s actually turning out to look like walking away from a lot of those bridges so I don’t torch them.
Holy shit I feel better. And also terrible.
I feel at home in my own skin. And also guilty. I feel free to choose the path that fits me. And also angry. I am in love with the pagan community I just discovered. And also broken-hearted over the Christian community I left.
I feel all of these things at once, and more. I’m pretty sure that’s normal.
And that’s pretty much it at the moment. I was waiting to post this until I could have clean, “Everything was bad, but then I had a spiritual revelation and did a little spellwork and everything is fine now!” story.
Everything is not fine. But it’s better, and I’m grateful for that.