I remember thinking – knowing really, during that indescribably difficult and painful time of my life when all of my doubts were finally being dealt with – that this darkness and self-hatred was something I was destined to endure until I died. I remember this feeling, hopelessness, being all that I could feel for some time.
I was losing my faith. I was losing the core of who I thought I was. I’ve tried to describe this pain before but my words can’t do it justice. This was an involuntary reversal of that which I once KNEW; that my god existed, loved me, and had plans for my life. To know something and then to no longer know that something, especially something so vital to my own existence, can be absolutely devastating. It was for me.
For over two years I wanted to end my life every day. It seemed like the only way.
Eventually I began to accept who I had become, I stopped lying to myself and calling myself a believer. I wasn’t one anymore and for a long time I was ashamed of it. Eventually it became the thing I am most proud of.
Today I’m writing this for those of you that find yourselves in a place similar to where I was just a few years ago. Those of you struggling to understand who it is that you are and to come to grips with the terms of your existence. I’m writing today to tell those of you who fear god’s wrath or your family’s rejection that god is not a threat and a family that rejects you for being exactly who you are isn’t one worth having. I want you to know that you deserve to be exactly who you are without shame or fear. You don’t have to pretend if you don’t want to, nor do you have to meet anyone’s expectations.
I’m writing this because I know that there are thousands of you out there who, because of the idea that you are totally depraved and unworthy of anything but punishment has been pounded into you for your entire life, need to know these things; this idea is irreconcilably wrong and you are not the first nor the last to endure this – you are a member of a family of people who prefer truth over comfort, happiness over devotion, and doubt over false certainty. You are a unique member of a community of millions of people who have been exactly in the midst of their own version of where you are now. You need to know this. You need to know that even though right now you feel like no one else in the entire world understands the pain you feel and the loneliness of moving from one station in life to another – we do.
I’m writing this to say that, if you need it, my door is open. I’ll provide whatever advice you may need, bringing my own experiences into what you are dealing with or if you want I’ll just shut up and listen. I’m only an email away.
Many people don’t understand the drive I have to help people make it through their crisis of faith. To clear up any mystery or confusion, this isn’t in the least about “converting” people to atheism. My goal is to make sure that the group of people that are most in need yet the most ignored have someone to turn to when all seems lost. I don’t personally care if anyone seeking my help renounces faith altogether. That would be selfish. I just want people to know that, no matter what, it gets better and the result is well worth the pain.Suicide rates of gay teens and young adults are through the roof, and while I haven’t seen any studies about people dealing with the results of a lost faith, my own experience tells me that this, too, is driving suicide rates due to the despair which so often accompanies doubt. I bother because I wish someone had bothered with me and I wish I would have had the courage to reach out to someone sooner than I did.
For my former brethren in the church:
I know, I get it. This sounds absolutely awful from your perspective. I’m potentially taking someone away from “salvation” and grace. I totally understand why you might be upset at this prospect…but what I don’t think you understand is that these people hurt, they hurt in ways that you probably don’t understand and I’m sorry to say it but you’ve probably had your chance to help …and unfortunately you probably blew it. The Church just isn’t good at helping doubters because the real issues never really get discussed. If you’ve never been in those shoes it’s just not something you can understand, much less help someone else with. So, respectfully, I ask that you work with me here. If the lives of these people are as important to you as they are to me, I need you to put away your dogma for a moment and consider the consequences of someone taking his life over doubt because of your inability to help him cope. It may be the most important thing you ever do to just help someone find this page or some other resource for doubters. Please put these lives first. If you know a member of your church or youth group and you think they need help please get in touch with me or someone else who can help, someone who’s been there. There ARE doubters in your congregation, they may even be in your pulpit.
Matt Oxley is a former fundamentalist Christian turned atheist living in Middle Georgia. He writes about his experiences living in the Deep South as an atheist activist and critic of Christian society. You can reach him at RevOxley501@gmail.com, on twitter @RevOxley, and on Facebook here.