At the moment, I can't say with 100% certainty that I'm an atheist. In fact just two days ago I considered myself a born-again Southern Baptist--not a "good" one, by any means, but I was one.
I grew up in a pretty average non-denominational Christian household, smack-dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. When I was younger, we attended an Assembly of God church where I crawled under the pews and played pretend house with my sister during services (we were both just beginning grade school at this point). I got "saved" when I was 5. My mom was very proud of me. When I was 9, we moved to south Mississippi. We lived mere miles away from the beach, and the air smelled like seawater. I loved that place. Growing up there and now attending a stiflingly conservative Baptist church, I began to stray. By the time high-school rolled around I had all but denied God. I believed in Him, most definitely, but I didn't follow Bible teachings by any stretch of the imagination. I dabbled briefly in bisexuality, dreaded going to church on Sunday mornings, and cussed like a sailor (all of which were "sins").
Hurricane Katrina hit at the beginning of my 10th grade year. We moved back inland. I hated my life. At this point I "became an atheist" because it was rebellious and I wanted to be a rebel. I never truly stopped believing in God though. On top of all of this, I weighed 200 lbs. at that time. During my "atheist" phase, I lost 30 lbs. Became really happy. Accepted the new life in a new place, started seeing someone. I continued going to church. We had found a new Southern Baptist church full of some of the nicest people I know. I deceived them... I was the favorite in the youth group, I sang on Sunday mornings, I went to all the camps and I was a beast at Bible drill. Then my boyfriend and I would go off and have sex when church was over.
My freshman year in college, I didn't enter a church until December, after a devastating break-up with my first serious boyfriend. The church I went to was a massive mega-church close to the college campus, known for its local and international mission efforts and for being more liberal than most Baptist churches in the area. In my heightened emotional state, Jesus sounded pretty freakin' sweet. I rededicated my life and was on a spiritual high for MONTHS. I read my Bible daily, for hours at a time, got rid of all of my secular music and started listening exclusively to Christian artists, went to church every time the doors were open... I was crazy in love with God. My political views changed from moderate to conservative almost immediately, and my many unsaved friends became my "mission field."
Despite this, thoughts that God and the afterlife can't exist, are too good to be true, are too outrageous to be true would still creep to the forefront. I'd push them back, telling myself that I wouldn't be feeling so close to Him if He didn't exist.
Exactly one year ago, I went on mission to China. My group and I taught English to elementary classes and put together a couple Christmas parties at some private schools. It was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had in my life. Oddly enough, that's when my "road to atheism" started, I guess. Don't get me wrong, I was on a total spiritual high throughout that mission trip, but when I got back to America is when I really began to doubt the existence of God. A missionary visited our church only a few weeks after I returned, and something he said really struck me as... just plain wrong. He said that missions where the gospel wasn't spread were useless. That you could go feed people, build houses, teach them, bring them medicine... and none of it meant anything unless you shared Christ with them. It made sense at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it appalled me. When I was in China, teaching seemed natural. Playing with the children and interacting with the teachers seemed natural. What seemed unnatural was when it was time to buck up and share Jesus with them. In fact, I hadn't shared Jesus with anyone on that trip.
From that point my spiritual life took a serious decline. I stopped reading my Bible, stopped praying almost completely, and started letting "sin" back into my life. I have no motivation to be a "good" Christian anymore, and every time I walk into the church I feel burdened with guilt and shame... I don't understand why, if God exists, He would allow me to know Him so closely and then just shut the door, cut me off completely. Why would God allow Hurricane Katrina to literally wipe my hometown off the map? Why would he forbid homosexuality, and then make humans who are attracted to people of the same sex? (I never believed that old Christian stand-by that "homosexuality is a choice.") Why would God allow right-wing conservatives to use Jesus (the "Prince of Peace") as their justification and their scapegoat for war, bigotry, and closed-mindedness?
Like I said... as of right now I consider myself a Christian still, but I don't think I'll stay that way for long. I love what Jesus represents: sacrificial, agape love. I love what I did in China, and I hope to do it again... but I don't want to do it under the condition that I have to share the gospel. I want to do it to help people, to experience a different culture, to make friends. Honestly, since I've come to terms with this I feel like I did when I first rededicated my life to Christ... but without all the guilt. I just feel... like I'm actually living, and not wrapped up in worry and shame. It feels pretty freakin' great, actually. :)