Secular Sunday: Losing My Religion, Part 1: Christianity
I have been asked several times to share my story of how I went from growing up as an Evangelical Christian, to a Qur’an-only Muslim and finally as an Atheist. The only “beliefs” that give me no cognitive dissonance. In the words of Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.
My religious journey was always about getting closer to god, and trying to salvage my faith. It was why I left Christianity for Islam. It was why I studied Islam more and continued asking questions. Because I believed that my god, the god of the universe, would of course be able to stand up to scrutiny. But the harder I looked, the more everything began to fell apart. So I left Islam, and in the end, I couldn’t see any convincing evidence as to why I should believe in god at all. All I see is fairy tales, make-believe and wishful thinking. And I’m sorry, I’d rather be hurt by the truth than comforted by a lie.
Long-time readers might recall I did a three-part series on Losing My Religion on the old blog, and I have decided to rewrite these posts and share them.
I grew up in a very Christian, Evangelical family (by Danish standards anyway). I grew up believing that those who did not believe in God and accept Jesus as their Saviour were condemned to eternal hell, pain and suffering.
I grew up believing that there were demons and evil spirits all around us. Trying to tempt us. Trying to hurt us. I wasn’t told that there were no monsters beneath my bed. I was told to fold my hands and ask Jesus to protect me from them.
I was told not to question “God’s Wisdom”. Or what the Bible said, even when it didn’t make sense. The things that couldn’t be explained was justified by saying “God knows what we do not, and we cannot understand God’s ways”. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1 (New International Version)
Don’t get me wrong. I truly believed. I did everything within my power to continue believing in God. I finished reading the Bible in its entirety by the age of 12, and have probably read the New Testament 4-5 times.
God is good, but the world is full of pain and suffering… because of our free will. God orders genocides, murder and torture of other people, but that’s okay, because those were heathens who were damned anyway. God is okay with babies being born with horrible birth defects or cancer, but it is our fault for being sinful in the first place.
Looking at the God of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, you’d think it was two different gods… or that we’re dealing with a severe case of schizophrenia. Many (if not most) don’t even try to understand it, saying they don’t need to understand it, they just need to accept it.
One thing which bothered me from a young age, and finally began leading me away from the church at the age of 15, is the “all you have to do is believe in Jesus and ask him to forgive your sins, and then you’ll be saved.. no matter what you’ve done”. Really? So your behaviour and actions count for nothing?
At the age of 15, I really began to see the hypocrisy of many of my fellow Christians. The girls who were leading the worship sessions, and spoke about “saving yourself for marriage” were the ones who went all the way with their boyfriends.
The obsessiveness the church has with judging people, and deciding which sins are worse. Pre-marital sex, abortion or especially homosexuality, and you’re practically doomed to hell. And please, don’t tell me how “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” Because you are not loving your neighbour like yourself when you won’t give equal rights to someone based on their sexuality. You are not God, so stop judging people.
Things like slander, rudeness, arrogance, prejudice are rarely if ever discussed, much less condemned. But frankly? These things are much more damaging to people and relationships, than people having sex outside of marriage.
I wanted to believe in God, even if I didn’t believe in His church. I wanted to believe that She was loving, that there was a plan for me. That there was a meaning behind the pain and suffering in the world.
But if God is truly good, why would He allow so much evil in the world? If He is truly all-powerful and all-knowing? If She exists and we are given free will, this world seemed like a test designed to make us fail.
Watching my grandmother and my father get sick with cancer, and dying, led me to stop going to church. But I still believed in God. Still wanted to believe. Still called myself a Christian.