There will be some of you reading these forums that have serious or lingering doubts about the religion you find yourself in. In my case it was Christianity and I found myself in my final year of theological college doubting more and more.
There are two questions to answer here. (1) Why did I leave? and (2) How did I leave? They should be read in parallel rather then sequentially as they happened together rather than one after the other.
It starts with the little things. Over the years I had met many good, kind, wonderful people who also happened not to be Christian. They were sometimes of other faiths and more often of no faith and apart from the irritating and friendship-destroying command I was under to attempt to convert them “if I really loved them”, I just wondered how it could be that a loving god would burn them in hell for all eternity simply because they had been born into another faith or couldn’t see the sense in mine.
Later, theological problems crept in, the many inconsistencies in the Bible just grew the more I looked into it. The historical inaccuracies and complete fabrications made taking the Bible seriously more difficult. Once you learn for example that Jericho and Ai existed 300 years apart and Joshua could not have been at both cities, you can’t unlearn that. There were countless other things. The fundamentalist college I attended attempted to keep these things away from us and I would say 99% of all Christians I knew were completely ignorant of them. These things are not taught in churches, not covered in books sold in Christian book shops, people are just completely unaware that the theology and historical basis of the faith they hold so dear is a complete and utter fabrication. The trappings of a good established religion are perfectly real of course, the friendship, the camaraderie and even the good works (whatever the motivation). The feelings they feel (and I felt) “in the presence of god” are real but manufactured internally and replicable in a laboratory. Later I learned what amounted to the final nail in the coffin, that the gospel story was borrowed or even stolen from much older cults in existence at time. I met and knew many genuine lovely people in the church – but if the foundation was a hoax I simply could not continue. There is much more I could say here.
After having lived and breathed it for, in my case 8 years, in other’s cases decades, to twist a common meme, “One does not simply walk out of church”
The process is gradual – and all the things I recounted in (1) happened over time as did my gradual extrication from all things church. First I left the denomination I was previously beholden to. I moved over to the Church of England (Anglican) (warning: Not the Church of England in South Africa) and I found there simple acceptance without interrogation about whether I was “saved”, “washed in the blood” etc. For a while I revelled in the bells and smells (and the super short services) as well as the more open, liberal theology. I could feel the fundamentalist in me kicking against it but I resisted the pull. I also stopped daily prayers. One of the ways you are kept locked in and brainwashed is by rituals, like daily prayer. I was convinced stopping prayers and reading the Bible would see my life turned over to turmoil but guess what, nothing bad happened. Not only did my life continue on its trajectory, it went better, I felt freer, lighter and the practices I had seen as a delight were revealed as the burden they actually were.
Initially the people I knew and loved contacted me, sent me tracts, came around and so on and were barely placated by the fact that I was attending an Anglican church (horror of horrors) but that did die down after a bit – I started to make new friends outside the church and linked up with people who could not abide me when I was a “Bible basher” – its important to make non-church friends because they will help you make the transition.
I eventually drifted away from attending services and finally placing my Bible on the shelf (and eventually into a box), I was finally able to say I was completely free of the trappings of religion. My time and my money were my own and my life has never been better.
Of course psychologically, its not as simple. The theological “truths” and terrible, unforgivable, threats remain with you. Someone described it like if an eagle grabs a rabbit but before it gets too high the rabbit struggles free. The tips of the eagle’s talons break off under its skin and niggle and worry the rabbit, but at least it survives. I felt the tips of the talons niggling and worrying me. I got over those thoughts and worries by reading books written by people who had walked away, by rational thoughtful authors who pointed out the flaws in the religious arguments and also forums and groups for ex-Christians. In time, you are able to put those thoughts behind you. If you really can’t – you might have to see a secular counsellor to help you talk through your fears because the ugly side of religion, the threats, the demons, the hell fire are very damaging indeed and many people remain paralysed by fear.
If you want to leave, or think you might want to. You can. Trust me. It took me 6 years in total but for over a decade now I have been happier than I have ever been – master of my destiny.
If you want to start, you can say the following “I reject Christianity, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father as myths. I take responsibility for my own destiny and resolve to enjoy life to the utmost for the time I have left.”
Wait and see, nothing will happen that wasn’t going to anyway and then start your own journey out of slavery and brainwashing into a much brighter, happier existence.