I get asked what it feels like to leave a religion I had served for 30 years of my life. I have found that my transition from christianity to agnostic/atheist (I’m still on this journey) is summed up in the five stages of grief. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.
Denial began when doubt first began to make it’s silent creep into my life. At first it was just the nagging questions that I couldn’t answer. “Why does God dislike gays?” “Why will my non-believing friends need to go to hell?” “How is God loving and fair?” I could quickly turn to my book of answers, the Bible, and squelch doubt for a little longer. Well doubt got bigger and stronger. His questions got more complicated. He became a fire I couldn’t put out. I picked up a book called “Jesus Interrupted” by Bart Ehrman. With every page doubt consumed my life. Doubt and denial began this ugly war inside of me. Doubt would surface and denial would find a way to “reason” doubt back to where he belonged. Quiet and stifled. Out of my sinful mind. Doubt and denial played this game for a few years. During these years denial usually won out and I continued playing the game of good, church-going christian all the while doubt sat just below the surface waiting for me to step in to stage 2 of the journey.
Mark (my husband) got beat and battered with the first rounds of anger. He was on the sidelines quietly doubting christianity himself until Easter last year when he announced he no longer believes that Jesus is God and that he’s pretty certain God may not exist at all. What?!? That spiraled me in to being an angry christian wife! I was going to show Mark that Jesus would shine through me. I went to church more (with the boys in tow), I read my Bible more, I prayed more. But the more I read the Bible and really listened to the messages in church the more doubt began to trump denial. I let denial take a break and gave doubt the reigns for a bit. I began to study, study, study. Question, question, question. Certain I’d end up on the side of christianity since I had known only that my entire life and 90 percent of my family and friends believed it to be true. It must be true. Turns out I had been duped. I had been played a fool. At times I had been down-right manipulated. I had let myself down. I hadn’t bothered to ask real questions for my entire 30 years of belief. How stupid of me. Here comes anger round two! I was angry at myself for being so gullible, so naive, so close-minded, so non-thinking. I was angry at myself for all the people I had judged during my life. I was angry that I had lived in a bubble for most of my life. Christian friends, christian school, church 3-4 times a week, christian summer camps, a christian country. How was I ever supposed to know something different? Anger.
I’m still in this phase. It ebbs and flows. It evolves. Today it has evolved in to anger at religion and the religious. But that’s another post.
Naturally along the way bargaining became a tool of coping. When I first was really beginning to see that my christian truths were not actually truths I would beg God to make it clear to me. I would weep huge sorrowful tears that the holy spirit would make Himself known or that I would find that one passage of scripture that could convince me to stay. I begged God that if I made this choice for our family that he would not punish my four boys with hell because I am making the choice for disbelief not them. I begged God not to harm my family just to teach me a lesson.
I bargained with myself too. Deluded myself. I kept pretending to be a christian to my friends and family so I didn’t have to hurt them. I couldn’t play that game very long. It began to eat away at me.
My depression was deep. And I’ve learned that it’s deep for many people who walk away from their religious beliefs. I would cry myself to sleep wondering if this exodus from christianity was worth it. I wanted an eternity in heaven too. This life seemed too short if there isn’t going to be an afterlife.
I have always been the daughter/friend that doesn’t let people down. I have always followed a very straight and narrow road rarely disappointing anyone who counted on me. Letting my friends and family know I no longer believed in Jesus and possibly not even God led many of them to start crying. They were grieving. I heard over and over again how sad they were for my boys. That my boys would never know the joy of Jesus (these comments often take me back to anger). Prayer chains were started to keep Satan from stealing my soul. Friends would make comments about my eternity in hell and my responsibility for my boys. I lost my social circles as I would not be attending church any more. I began to feel ostracized, judged, avoided. Relationships I have had for twenty plus years are damaged and I know that I’m the one who changed the game. They are the same and I am different. At times it feels dark and lonely in those relationships.The depression was and sometimes still is deep. My darkest days come when I am attacked for my disbelief and then that attack is masked as “love”. Fortunately dark days soon turn sunny.
I am so thankful to be in this stage today. I accept that religion and christianity are not for me and my family. I accept the responsibility of how I will raise my boys to be freethinkers. I accept that some days I will be angry with the religious. I have accepted that the last thirty three years of my life spent in religion was not all bad. In fact it’s great to have known and experienced monotheism at it’s best and it’s worst. I feel that makes my decision all the more concrete. I have accepted that my decisions hurt people but they don’t make me a bad person. I accept that I am about to embark on a new journey in life. One that is full of new people, new friends, new ideas and this time my mind will not be closed. I accept
that today is all I have. There’s no promise of anything eternal.
I accept that life is absolutely beautiful and there is no other place in this journey I’d rather be than right here. Right now.
Research used in my transition:
The Bible,Jesus Interrupted, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, The Case for Christ, Zeitgeist Movement, Evolution of God, Losing My Religion, Under the Banner of Heaven, Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, The Questions Christians Hope Noone Will Ask, Religion: 50 Ideas You Really Need to Know
Countless articles on reasons.org
Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney
Many many debates with Hitchens or Dawkins vs the other side
Countless sermons/talks from Tim Keller and Ravi Zacharias
Months and months of debates with friends/family via FB
And much much more.