Thanks to my dedicated evangelical stalker for inspiring me to finish the second half of my series on leaving the church. You’re the best, John Eric Spieker. There’s nothing like three years of hate thinly disguised as pleas for the salvation of my eternal soul to spur the writing mood.
This is a difficult subject to write about. I had no epiphany, there is no major event in my life that destined me for what most of my classmates surely consider to be apostasy. My evangelical pedigree is impeccable: I am descended from French Huguenots who fled Catholic persecution to live in Calvin’s Geneva. I was homeschooled with textbooks published by Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College; I have never had a lesson in evolutionary theory in my life. I attended Awana, Sunday School and youth group. I asked to be sent to Christian high school, and I later became the first member of my family to attend a Christian university. I even considered a career as a theologian. But despite this–despite the small groups, the hours of prayer, the Bible memorization–I fell by the wayside, and here I am still. I have irrevocably chosen a path that is not the one that was set out for me.
My intention in writing about such a personal decision has been motivated by my irritation at the notion that Christians who become atheists, or agnostics, or God forbid, members of other religions, do so purely for emotional reasons. Emotion is part of it, true. Faith is a deeply personal thing and the role of emotion is inseparable from any discussion on the subject. I did have a strong emotional reaction to the treatment of women and GLBT people in the church; I still do. But there are Christians who reject these prejudices as unBiblical, and I’m proud to call many of them my friends. The prevalence of these prejudices is not why I left. And though the treatment I received from people who called themselves my brothers and sisters in Christ caused and still causes me great pain, that is not why I left either. I left because I no longer believed that the Bible is divinely inspired. I do not believe Jesus was divine, I’m not even convinced he existed. I think it is absurd to insist that the world was created in seven days when all scientific evidence points to the opposite conclusion. I do not believe in miracles, I do not believe in the power of prayer, and I do not believe that the question of God’s existence is in any way relevant to my daily life. I arrived at these opinions after several years of careful consideration and therefore I do not hold them lightly. Sincerely religious people do not discard their entire belief system for superficial reasons. It’s time the church recognized that.
I don’t think I lost my faith. Faith is a necessary aspect of the human condition. We are social beings. We can’t survive without placing at least a little faith in our fellow humans. We have faith in ourselves, too, and this is exactly how it should be. I left my religious beliefs behind because I wanted my life to be just that: my life. No more waiting on divine guidance, no more anxiety over my interpretation of God’s will. If I make a mistake, I want it to be my mistake. If I do something worthy, I want to be able to acknowledge that there is something worthy in me, and in all people, and it is not divine in nature. It is deeply human.
There are nights when I miss religion. I miss the simplicity of those beliefs. It’s difficult to surrender the idea that there is a purpose to our lives and an omniscient, benevolent spirit who presides over it all. But I can’t live a lie. Even when I’m tempted to return to my days as Bible memorization champ and repeat “Lord, I believe, forgive thou my unbelief,” until I believe it all again, I can’t bring myself to do it. I won’t lie to myself. I won’t go back to years of misery and depression and doubt. They’re just words. Pretty words. But words only. They do not dictate my fate.
So that’s it, really. That is why I am not a Christian. The truth of it is less interesting and more complicated than people like Spieker believe. It’s easy to call a stranger an apostate. It takes courage to wonder why they became one.