I wasn’t raised in a religious household. My parents were ambivalent about all religions for a number of years; they believed in God (and still do), of course, but no attempt was made to put me in the church. No, I chose to investigate it myself, at 16 years old.
We had just moved to a new town, and the only friends I had attended an Assembly of God church. I followed along. To make a very long story short, I converted and was accepted into their church; I witnessed “faith healings,” people speaking in tongues, even young kids fainting from “possession of the spirit.” I cried over my sins, I prayed my heart out–I even destroyed my collection of secular music, believing it would bring me closer to God. The religion became an obsession. I was always doing something irrational, something illogical, to allow my faith to consume my life, always ignoring my own needs to further the cause. I put my religion before my already fragile health, my family, and my personal sense of right and wrong.
I dated a boy my age from the church for nearly a year. Our relationship was the epitome of chastity, but I made the mistake of dating the church’s favorite son, and so we were constantly under attack–I was called a whore, he was told that I was never going to be close enough to god to deserve him. We endured it for months, but he died tragically in a car wreck. Our church grieved heavily; it was a small congregation, and he was an integral part. But when grief gave way to anger and resentment, it was aimed directly at me. It was my fault he died, because our relationship was against god’s plan, and god had to take him to preserve his plan–or some such nonsense. Attacks were built into the Sunday sermons about girls who defy god’s will. There was even talk about how illness and disability were signs that you had too much sin still in your life, that you were too separate from god–and I happen to have a paralytic neurological disorder, which my church knew about.
The people of my church had become unbearable. When I moved away to college, I took the opportunity to withdraw from the Christian community at large. I began to analyze my willingness to endure people who were too willing to turn their superstition against a teenage girl, and questioned whether or not I even shared those superstitions with those people. The longer I stayed out of the church, the more I was willing to admit that there were holes in Christianity; the more chinks in the armor, so to speak, the more my own logic took over and the less I believed it. The guilt of “sin,” of my inherent badness, was far heavier than I realized; when my belief went out the window, my depression followed shortly behind it.
Unfortunately, around the time I was leaving the religion, my family picked it up, in the same fundamentalist manner I had. There was no room for reasoning with them—they became convinced, and remain so to this day, that I am a terrible daughter, a sinful person, the spawn of the devil himself to know god and walk away from him. It took about six months for me to admit to myself that I no longer believed in god, in Jesus, in anything the Christian religion had to offer me; it took probably another two years before I would say it out loud. But now, five years later, I’m happier as an atheist–more fulfilled, compassionate, and committed to the happiness of others–than I ever was as a believer.If you want to share your story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact your local member group.