I’ve decided to start doing a regular segment on RagingRev.com from readers who want to tell their own story about how they came out of their faiths. If you, as a reader, would like to submit your story please use the Contact Me link at the top of the page. This segment will be called Your Stories.
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“What do you do when you are having doubts about God? “ I asked.
“You pray about it.” She replied.
This is the short conversation that took place in my 11th grade Sunday school classroom. I had attended the First Baptist Church in my hometown for as long as I could remember. I was there every Sunday, every Wednesday evening and for most any other church sponsored event every week. When I was eight years old, I made my way up the aisle to tell the preacher that I wanted to accept Jesus into my heart and I was baptized the following week. I never really felt like God was speaking to me the way other people described hearing him speak to them. I only decided to speak to the preacher because I felt obligated to. It seemed like everyone expected it, especially considering that everyone was so happy and proud of my little brother for doing it the week before.
As I got older and continued going to regular church meetings, I would feel guilty when the preachers would deliver sermons about sinning. They made it seem like everything I did was inherently bad. Even just thinking about doing something required swift repentance, no matter if you followed through with the actions or not. I recall many sermons were closed with a question like “If you got into a car accident on your way home from church today, would you go to Hell?”. Then he would invite anyone who felt they needed to, to come to the front of the church to pray with him as old hymns played on the piano. I frequently walked up the aisles and knelt at the altar to ask for God’s forgiveness for everything I had done wrong and promised that I wouldn’t do it again if I could still be saved from going to Hell.
When I asked my Sunday school teacher about doubting God, I had hoped she would give me something else I could do besides pray. Prayer hadn’t worked for me. I didn’t want to talk to any of our preachers or even the youth minister because they often said that you just needed to have faith and your doubts would disappear. It made me feel like a dog chasing it’s own tail. I was supposed to pray to ask for my faith to be strengthened, but my inability to hear God speak to me only made me more doubtful.
My doubts continued to grow as I got older, especially once I moved out on my own and stopped going to church. I was able to reach out to other people like me over the Internet and see that I wasn’t alone in my uncertainty. I spent a lot of time reevaluating my beliefs and eventually settled on agnosticism. Atheism seemed to go too far in the other direction for me, with its certainty in there not being a god. I think it’s highly possible, or even probable that there is something greater out there. I just don’t know that I believe humans have the capability to understand what that is and put it into words.
The conversion from Christianity to agnosticism was tough. It was like peeling back the layers of an onion. Letting go of opinions I had grown up being taught to believe took time. It was hard to admit to myself that people I had respected all of my life could be wrong. One of the biggest hurdles for me was reshaping my views on homosexuality. I was taught that homosexual behavior was abominable according to the Bible, as is the case in many Christian churches; so when my brother came out to our family as a gay man, I was shocked and scared for him. I pleaded with him to try to pray about it. I repeated many of the Bible verses I had been taught about homosexuals and warned him that his orientation would send him to Hell. The discussion degenerated into us hurling insults at each other, and I said a lot of things that I am not proud of. We didn’t speak for a few months.
When we eventually started talking again, he told me that he had always been gay. Deep down I knew this, but letting go of the idea that being gay was a choice was difficult. His experiences helped me put a face on the issue and empathize with other homosexuals.
It was freeing to release that fear and judgment that religion had created in me. Over time, I completely changed my opinions about homosexuality. I’m now an avid supporter of same sex marriage and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights. I’ve written on my personal blogs about these issues and voted for candidates that support equality. I think sometimes I feel obligated to do enough to counter the years of damage I did by perpetuating the views that I had.
This is only one example of the many experiences I had that helped me broaden my opinions about what is acceptable, which ultimately allowed me to let go of religion. Every time another one of my beliefs was challenged, it made me think about why I believed the things that I believed. My ideals no longer matched up with the doctrine I had grown up with and I no longer felt pressured to label myself as a Christian. I was free.
Sarah blogs at Simply Sarah, and lives in rural Southern Georgia.