“[I have] only the same things turned over again and again, as though turning them again will bring some new insight. But the new insights are the same as the old insights. Heaven is a hamster wheel. Why won’t my heart stop beating?” - Kyle Minor, Praying Drunk.
I was brought into Christianity by appeals to emotion. Jesus was presented to me as a panacea that would heal what would turn out to be festering, undiagnosed, deadly psychiatric destabilization.
“Don’t you want to feel better?” Well yes, I do.
“Do you want your life to have purpose?” Who doesn’t?
“Do you want inner peace?” Yes, I am not okay in here and I don’t know how much more I can take.
“Jesus can help you. He made you with a purpose in mind. He knows you and loves you. His love and forgiveness will heal your pain.” Well fuck it, nothing else has helped and I’ve got to stop hurting myself. I’m in.
And I WAS in. I was fourteen and began studying the Bible with ferocity that impressed even the most seasoned Christians in my life. I began attending weeknight youth services and I found that I finally had a place to make social connections and experience moments of catharsis that I and those around me attributed to the presence of God. I thought I had found the answer to all my problems.
I didn’t notice when the emotions associated with my faith began to shift from assurance to anxiety. The fear of hell is incredibly problematic and can have far-reaching social implications. I was the only Christian in my family and if they were going to hell because of their unbelief, the burden fell to me to convert them - I didn’t want them to experience an eternity of conscious torment. I felt that I must conduct myself in a manner as not to defame God.
This extended to every person in my life - my classmates who scarcely spoke to me, my coworkers, and even complete strangers. I feel especially sorry for my coworkers who were not only stuck in the shitty gas station kitchen, they were stuck there with sixteen-year-old me who never shut up about God - though I would here like to thank them for always putting up with my shit and helping me through my lowest cycles of depression.
I continued to attend church services twice a week as the near constant anxiety and worsening depression refused to yield to prayer. Whenever I would reach out and ask a church elder for help with my mental health, I was told to pray more or that God wouldn’t give me more than I can handle. I was praying and studying the Bible as much as I possible could given my full high school course load with some college classes, extra-curriculars, and twenty-five to thirty hour work week at sixteen and seventeen years old. Whatever the solution was, it was becoming increasingly clear that it wasn’t prayer.
After a few stints in psychiatric hospitals and with a budding habit of cutting myself, I went off to college at nineteen. I thought if I went to a Christian university, I would be surrounded by people who were open to having honest conversations. I thought they would take to heart the scriptures’ admonishment to work hard in all things as I did. I thought it would be a good place to heal. It was not.
A few weeks in, the administrator of my dorm pulled me aside and pressured me into signing a contract saying that if I were found to have been discussing my mental health with anyone but a small number of designated individuals or if anyone saw and complained about my self harm (the cuts were extensive and highly visible), I would be kicked out of my dorm. Borderline Personality Disorder and still undiagnosed PTSD were hard enough to endure without the further isolation brought on by having been muzzled in this way.
In the interest of not boring you with all of the unnecessary details, I will jump ahead in the story to my being twenty four years old. I had been participating in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes (this is essentially adult Catholic confirmation) to learn more about that particular sect of Christianity and watching a lot of The Atheist Experience to challenge these teachings. I figured if the things I was learning were true, they would hold up to even the most intense scrutiny.
I didn’t realize I had been adopting a foundation in skepticism until I was explaining Thomas Aquinas’ Unmoved Mover from memory. Allow me to take you into my mind at that moment:
“The idea of the unmoved mover states that there are objects in motion, they didn’t start out in motion, therefore someone caused them to move” Wait. Why does it have to be some one and not some thing? “And that someone was God.” Why do I believe this? There is absolutely no evidence for this.
A few days later, I was speaking with my doctor about my night terrors getting worse. Every night, I was repenting of my sins as I fell asleep because my fear of hell was escalating. I would often face death in my dreams and, thinking it was real, beg God to not send me to hell just before I was killed. I would wake up in a sweat with my heart racing from the terror. We were both Christians at the time and have an open dialogue so after listening to what my horrific dreams were about, their advice to me was to keep praying for peace before bed and take what little faith I had left and offer it to God.They also encouraged me to keep reading the Bible.
Ordinarily, such instruction would have irritated me but at the prompting of this kind person who really seemed (and still does seem) to care, I began to get back into reading the Bible. I was sitting on my bed with my dog reading Deuteronomy where God was giving some atrocious command and it hit me all at once - I don't believe this anymore. Ironically, the actions intended to bring me close to God had finally dissuaded me of his existence altogether. That very night, I accepted my lack of faith.
It is difficult to describe accurately the void that is created upon deconversion. Losing one’s belief in a creator deity that knows and loves you creates profound loneliness. I still struggle at times with this existential isolation and I have found respite in this family of skeptics.
Many people in my life think I will re-convert to Christianity and I appreciate when they say they will pray for me - I know they think it’s the most loving thing they can do. I may talk about this more in the future if there is interest.