1. What prompted you to make such a drastic change and how old were you?
Well, a bit of background: I became saved when I was five (I still remember praying the prayer and the room I was in and what the gist of the prayer was) and was raised within a variety of Christian protestant denominations, although the one that has had the most overall impact on me would what is known today as "evangelical" (with Baptist undertones) flavor.
As a natural process of getting older and of my personality, while I kept peace outwardly (due to self-doubts and wanting to be fair and recognizing I didn't know things for sure), I always had issues with doctrine. At first, I thought it merely a matter of misunderstanding on my part and/or not educating myself, so for many many years the focus of my faith was intellectual... learn, read, understand, conceptualize. My spiritual gifts always came up as Teaching and Knowledge. I memorized scripture and read voraciously, I was reading Lewis by middle school, and always starting with the more conservative stuff; I read a lot of apologetics, hard questions materials (IVP, Henry Morris, anti-evolution materials in the early 90's, etc).
Because of who I am, because I just can't deny ambiguities or ignore inconsistencies, I had to grapple with the hard questions; and the more I learned in adulthood (both knowledge-wise and also experientially), the more I found myself challenging the views of my subculture. I read all the stuff the hard right offered me, and for a time I believed it because I had nothing substantial to challenge it. But increasingly the faith as promoted did not make sense to me or seem to be as good a fit for real-life experience; it wasn't "true." And the more people I interacted with outside my subculture, the more information I gained that challenged my own understanding. I had a few massive depressive episodes throughout my life where my faith was shattered and then I'd rebuild
While in reality my faith change was a gradual process of erosion of confidence in the old doctrines that I fought and challenged every step of the way, the major shift occurred when I was about 38, and I officially left my worship position in church and church itself about eight months later. At that point, I was so worn out and depressed that I felt like I was being bombarded and eroded by "groupthought" and just could no longer stand to be in that environment. I could no longer play the game of maintaining my standing in the organization/faith and still be true to what I had seen.
While I have since begun attending church again (sporadically) about a year after I left, I just don't enjoy standard Bible study and the generic discussions that occur at church... it used to be my life, now it all seems contrived to me based on what I came to believe to be true. I can't go back, I can only go forward. However, I am still heavily sympathetic to religious people who are attempting to be authentic, faithful, and exhibit good fruit in their lives even if I disagree with their theology, and I'm not really fond of people who go to the other extreme and attack religion unfairly. To me, faith is a very complex and ambiguous issue.
2. Do you think that if your faith had been presented in a different manner by your family or your church/synagogue/political system/science/etc it would have prevented you from choosing to leave? If you didn't buy it yourself, why do you think it didn't "take"? Was how you were treated a factor?
Ultimately I think that if the faith had been presented differently, it would have hastened (not prevented) my movement away from evangelical Christianity to my current Christian agnosticism. The real difference (and benefit) to it lies more within my own sense of well-being and self-worth.
For one, I would not have been as badly scarred by the transition. I felt like I was given no room to go within my faith... either I had to believe a particular doctrine, or else be labeled an apostate. I felt like I was not respected as an intelligent person in the sense of being able to openly discuss and challenge ideas... even if I handled disagreement in a respectful manner.
I also might not have chosen to LEAVE the church; I really wanted to stay, but I felt that the strife resulting from other fervent beliefs pitted against my need to start vocalizing my disagreements would have been too destructive to the peace of the body at that time in my life. I couldn't handle it, and I felt it was too disruptive, and I actually don't much care to disrupt things.
I would have also been able to move forward and figure out my own values and beliefs years before I did. I have a lot of "wasted time" in there where I struggled to hold onto truths that I no longer really believed or at least considered dubious, and it hindered personal growth.
On the other hand, the difficulty in leaving the old frame of reference tempered and strengthened me. The weak die (physically or mentally); the strong survive. I feel myself to be a survivor, and at this point in my life there is little that frightens me... and I will not be imprisoned that way again, I will not permit myself to be dominated unfairly and have my own values and beliefs subverted or put down tacitly or openly.
Put another way, I now have the strength to live what I believe.
My faith and values did not come cheaply, I had to fight to become who I am.
That resilience will be with me the rest of my life.
3. How do you feel about it now? Are there any regrets? What have you gained?
As much as my answer to #2 seems like a complaint in some ways, I don't know any other way for me to have moved forward, based on my situation and personality and upbringing. This is who I am; I like who I am now; therefore, i don't regret anything in that sense.
Nor do I regret how hard I worked to treat my old subculture with dignity (preserving people's feelings) while fighting hard to respect my own. I made mistakes at times, but my intentions were good in how I interacted with people, I really did try to "love" even if I didn't understand everything, and so I preserved my integrity as well as as many relationships as I could, feasibly. I could have gotten out far sooner but I would have caused a lot of relational damage around me in the process, and instead I carried that burden and feel good about it... and strong.
I have also gained a much clearer sense of self, and of my own strengths and weaknesses, and of my values (which I wasn't sure about in the past). My faith now is MINE, not anyone else's, and no one else will take it away from me. I also now know what I can live with and what I can't.
4. How did it affect your relationship to your family and also impact the social circle you had?
I lost pretty much my entire social culture, since church and family were all I had at the time... My circle of RL friends was small, almost all my relationships outside the fold were Internet at the time. I basically had to build a new support structure from scratch, at a time in my life when I was scared and exhausted. Not fun.
I lost my position of church authority (worship leader) and even opportunities to teach. I had contributed both to the drama program and the educational programs in my church, but no longer.
I lost the respect of religious people in my family. They used to look to me as a source of insight and even ask me to explain their doctrine TO them; now they treated me like an unbeliever and instead prayed for my soul. They never really grasped that I had moved forward, not back, and sometimes forward means going through the fire to reach a higher level of existence. I went where I had to go alone, aside from a few very very close friends who believed in me as a person.
At this point, they still view me as an unbeliever, I think, since Christian agnosticism might as well be paganism in terms of the evangelical mindset of my family. I have had to accept that being myself has meant losing some closeness and trust in those family relationships.
5. Has anything replaced your old faith?
My new faith has, as well as a sense that I don't need to understand something or have all the answers in order to believe in it.
Eastern-style thought is much more present in my outlook than before -- I can hold positions that seem contradictory to western minds (e.g., Christian agnosticism) without it bothering me, intellectually. The questions that I used to waste so much time on (e.g., "Does God exist?" or "What of evil?") no longer matter that much to me. Faith is a choice, not a compulsion.
I find that I am far more content and positive without being certain of the old ideas of heaven, than I was when heaven was promised me, and I am far more apt to engage people day to day now and sacrifice for them out of love.
That's really the big thing: I do things because I believe in them myself, not because I have to since my faith doesn't give me other options.
I give because I want to.
I feel if anything that I am an autonomous human being aligned with "God's heart" rather than a puppet of the strings that God is pulling.
I act out of the character of who I am, rather than out of external compliance.
I really don't seek to "serve man" anymore, I'm going to maintain my integrity and be true to my vision.
Thank you for sharing so openly about where you've been and how you're approaching this.Originally Posted by fidelia
Despite my approach here on this forum (where I seem to challenge the 'faith' perspective), inside I still tend to have a lot more in common with Christians than those without any beliefs whatsoever. I think the faith has been too indelibly written into who I am to be able to abandon it, I still tend to see the world through its eyes.