In case I haven't made my background painfully clear, let me reiterate: I used to be a Bible-thumping Christian. My grandfathers were both Southern Baptist preachers; my parents met at a Christian college and were both virgins when they married and planned to be missionaries abroad; my mom was in the choir; we went to church EVERY Sunday... when I was 21, I moved to Nashville to "get closer to God" and was there for three years studying the Bible and different theologies. Up until the last two years, I was completely devoted.
I've briefly gone over my deconversion in some previous blogs, but let me just give you my "Christian testimony".
When I was six, my mom was rehearsing a song she was going to sing in front of church that Sunday. The lyrics struck my young, sensitive little heart. I felt sorry for Jesus. Why did they do such mean things to him when all he wanted was for us to love him? Obviously, I couldn't comprehend the deeper meaning behind any of it; I just let a couple tears drip down my face while my mom led me in prayer to "accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior" so his suffering wasn't in vain.
((Here's the song she sang, in case anyone is curious: http://artists.letssingit.com/sandi-patti-lyrics-via-dolorosa-2pfmkrd ))
Like I said, we rarely skipped attending Sunday school or a service. I don't know what it was that made me start doubting my Salvation, but I was thirteen when the thought struck me that I might not be "saved". I remember it clearly: we were on vacation and driving back from a day at the beach. I was dosing in the back-seat when a vision of Hell popped into my brain. My thought was, "what if I'm not saved?" and I tried to talk to my mom about it once we got back to our cottage, but it was late and she was tired. For weeks, visions of eternal damnation danced in my head. I reasoned that I'd get used to the flames; I was too embarrassed to admit I wasn't "saved" after all.
Well, one Sunday evening service, I was sitting in the back of the church alone, listening intently to our guest speaker. I think I had been waiting for some friends to show up, but for whatever reason, they never came. The preacher was talking about Revelations and the End Times, and could you honestly say that you'd be "raptured" when Jesus came back. I was "convicted"; I couldn't see it happening. I didn't want to go to the front of the church (due to being deathly shy), but my doubts had finally gotten the best of me. I shot like a bullet to the front of the church, in all fear of Hell and The Tribulation to come after The Rapture. I said the prayer, I accepted Jesus (again), and then prayed a little more in the chapel off to the side. I was very deeply shaken by the end of it all. I was literally shaking by the time we were finished.
For a week or so afterward, I was elated. I felt great; I'd overcome the nagging fear that I was going to Hell. I felt like my sin had been erased and that I was a "new creature in Christ". But the high didn't last and the doubts returned with a vengeance. It was October when I accepted Jesus, and by November I was beside myself worrying. I had the worst anxiety, especially since I was ashamed to go through the process of getting saved AGAIN! Had my motives been pure? Did I REALLY believe? I spent one Thanksgiving in totally agony (in addition to having the flu) and had images of Hell and demons and Satan filling my head and absolutely terrifying me. I worried about this for YEARS. It wasn't until I was 17 that the torment finally subsided, but still not completely.
If that's not psychological abuse, I don't know what is. It's really hard to express how awful I felt and how fearful I really was at that time. I went through another phase at 18 and 19 where I was experimenting with other beliefs and religions, but those were so ridiculous and anxiety-inducing that I gave those up and went back to Christianity. Not long after, I headed to Nashville.
I think maybe a person comes into a deeper sense of self-awareness at 12 and 13. Maybe that's why it became such an issue at that point. Whatever the reason, I was filled with all kinds of anxiety until fairly recently. I was always wondering what I was doing wrong; was always worried about various people who were (supposedly) going to Hell; was always trying to figure out what "God's will for my life" was... et cetera. This mindset is NOT peaceful; it is NOT conducive to being a functional human being; it does NOT add fulfillment... and the "hope" Christians talk about being filled with is laced with fear. The Bible guarantees NO ONE salvation, even those who spend every waking moment in prostration before God. Its central message is "you are bad; you can do nothing on your own; you're unclean; you're not smart enough to figure anything out; you don't deserve to live much less go to Heaven when you die... but, for some strange reason unbeknownst to anyone, God loves you unconditionally (?)... but don't fuck up anyway, 'cause he might change his mind... "
So, when Christians ask you how you have any Hope being atheist, I really wonder what they're talking about. It's a lie and somehow they believe all that torment in their brain is part of having hope! My older brother and I recently found out that we both had the same fear: whenever we walked in the house and no one was home, we were terrified that The Rapture had happened and we'd been left behind to suffer the Tribulation alone. The Hope I had in my life was that I'd be lucky enough to be chosen to go to Heaven and not burn!
After finally sloughing off religion for good, I can't even express how much peace I finally have (aside from the family drama). Yes, I have hope now... hope for a real life that isn't haunted by imaginary creatures and places. I'm happy! I like myself and I don't think I'm bad; I think I'm good and pretty damn cool, too. My atheist story is currently pretty short, but it's been very fulfilling. I would NEVER go back, even if I could convince my brain any of it was true.
Christians can keep their f'ing version of Hope and Peace.