I'd like to tell my story.
I was raised in a very liberal Christian household. Although we didn't hold any animosity or hostility towards people who disagreed with us, or homosexuals or anything, our parents still took our religious upbringing quite seriously. Church almost every Sunday, lots of family activities with a religious slant etc. (of particular note, family meeting and planning every Sunday with prayer.)
Our brand of Christianity was very much of the "Jesus loves you just the way you are" variety, so our attitude to spirituality was pretty relaxed. I stopped going to church in my teens, and instead joined a youth group with guest pastors, christian rock, youth ministration and the whole shebang. Even then, I rarely paid attention during the talks, mostly I just went for keeping up appearances.
Fast forward to my late teens. I went to a boarding school for a year before I attended university. One day, I decided to actually look up some Atheist content to see what they actually think. I just wanted to understand their reasons. I came upon Dusty Smith's youtube channel, Cult of Dusty, and watched a few of his videos ranting about religion.
I wanted to check my facts, and during my googling I found a page that does a quick and concise summary of all the OTHER religious figures throughout history that share aspects with Jesus. Other Sons of God, other virgin-births, other martyrs.
That was the first major blow to my faith. I made a teary-eyed, sobbing phone call to Mom where I blurted out that I didn't believe anymore (in hindsight, it certainly was the start of my road to unbelief). Mom got very concerned, but she also took it very calmly. Dad bought me a book (C. S. Lewis' 'The Screwtape Letters'. Never finished it) that he hoped would help.
This moment faded into memory, and I eventually backtracked. Later that same year, when I went to my first actual service in quite a while, I got that feeling of euphoria and elation, and concluded that I simply hadn't been spending enough time with God. Back home the next year, I started actually reading the Bible for the first time in a while. I had decided that I wanted to make sure I actually knew what I believed in. The Old Testament wasn't exactly fun to get through, and although Jesus was a lot more agreeable, I still had some objections that wouldn't let go.
My doubt came back eventually, and once again my parents were totally cool with it. They explained this as a necessary process where my "childhood faith" needed to evolve into a proper, mature understanding of what it meant to be Christian.
So I started asking questions. My dad possessed a degree in theology, so he was good at answering me, but he couldn't quite settle my doubts, and the more I thought about it, the more it all started to fall apart. I also got a small job, serving as a translator in my church, since there happened to be a few members of the congregation who didn't speak Norwegian (my nationality). Being an English student, it was very valuable experience to get the chance to actively apply myself, but of course, I also got the full content of the pastor's speeches in ways I hadn't since childhood, and having to translate it as accurately as possible forced me to think about the implications of what I was saying.
So there was this one service, where the preacher was talking about what it meant to serve God. The way he described it was essentially as process where serving God made your "true self" come to the light. When you followed God in all things, the story went, your "earthly self" would diminish, and your "true self" would be revealed in Christ.
To me, this sounded like one thing, and one thing only: Brainwashing. I mean, seriously, it's a raw deal you're getting as a Christian, "there's something wrong with you, and only I can fix it. You need me, you're worthless without me, I'll punish you if you reject me."
So I had just translated for the preacher, and as the music kicked in and the congregation praised god with song, I sat down on my knees, and wept by myself in the corner room I sat in.
If I couldn't believe in God wholeheartedly, I was going to Hell... but what if Hell didn't exist? What if there was no God?
I renounced my faith essentially right then and there. I told my family about it later that same evening. I'm extremely fortunate to have a family who doesn't let the fact that I'm an Atheist stop them from being my family. I'm still their son and older brother, and they still love me.
I am now against religion, because it has the nerve to suggest that you should be ashamed of your humanity, and it reduces us to mere pawns in a cosmic game – whether that be the battle between Good and Evil, or the Wheel of Life or anything else – where our interests and desires are never served or honestly considered.
...and the more I thought about it, the more it all started to fall apart....To me, this sounded like one thing, and one thing only: Brainwashing..
That about sums it up. Only when we can stand back and critically reason not just what we believe but why we believe it can we see faith for what it is. They were never really "your" beliefs. All you did was to believe what other people seemed to believe. Now you do not believe what they believe. It is a much more mature position to hold.
Congratulations on your quest for understanding, and on your decision. Even as a Christian I agree with both. You should not believe in a religion that makes you ashamed of your humanity, or makes us a pawn in a cosmic game; certainly not one that resembles brainwashing (though I think that term gets overused and applied uncritically).
Best to you.
Thank you for your consideration. On the note of brainwashing, I definitely agree, and I count it more as the final nail in the coffin than the one definitive epiphany. My deconversion process lasted about two years, give or take, so at one point I just couldn't accept it with a straight face anymore, and that's the biggest reason why. My personal honesty is the best barometer for how to relate to the world around me that I have, I'd be a hypocrite otherwise.
You went through a lot of angst.
I had a much smoother transition about the time of Santa/Easter Bunny/Toothfairy indoctrination.
It was glaringly obvious that they were all made up, and, yet, for some bizarre reason, told to me as though it were gospel...and the "importance of believing" was drilled pretty hard...such that I learned, by the age of maybe 3-4, that there were things grownups pretended were true and important to believe, even though they were ridiculous.
When the god stuff started in Sunday school, with Santa et all STILL being presented as fact, well, it was glaringly obvious that god was just one more made-up character everyone had to pretend existed.
I started reading very young, and, was reading Huck Finn, the scene where Huck is helping a slave escape to the north, and Huck was wracked with guilt that he was sinning by helping the slave escape, something in church he was told was a sin.
He was crying because he felt that he needed to help the slave get his freedom, and was going to go to hell for it...but couldn't separate what the church said was a sin, from what seemed like the right thing, to him.
He assumed it made him an evil person to sin on purpose like that.
It illustrated, to me, that the bible was not moral, and, WE are moral. That doing what we know is right, even if the bible/church says its wrong, is what IS right.
From that day forward, I refused to pretend any longer...and then did pretend simply because I got tired of others not getting it.
People defended what the bible said. They would simply say it said stuff, but they either remembered incorrectly or made up what they believed, and seemed to assume the bible just said whatever they personally believed it SHOULD HAVE SAID.
After my kids were middle aged, I started to feel more comfortable discussing religion again...and people STILL had their own morals, etc, and, just assumed their bible (regardless of their religion) said what they thought it should instead of what it actually said.
I limit discussions to scenarios where that sort of discussion is considered OK...or at least it was brought up, etc.
So I have not pretended to believe for many decades, but have let things go as the situation was not conducive to a productive exchange of ideas.
Here, and a few other places are a breath of fresh air though...as reason and logic are more precious than arrogant rationalizations of bronze age centered traditions.