I was struck recently by a post by Latebloomer of Past Tense Present Progressive. In that post she detailed her journey from fundamentalist Christian to agnostic, describing it as follows:
For as long as I’ve had an identity, it has been wrapped up in the word “Christian”, specifically the fundamentalist variety. I wanted my relationship with Jesus to completely consume me and leave me with no other identity and no errant belief. My entire life would be spent in gratitude to God for saving me from the hell I deserved. It was my responsibility to try to love others the way God loved me: by hoping for them to start to follow Jesus too, so that God and I could accept them into our spiritual family.
Then slowly, one by one, my fundamentalist beliefs started shifting, starting first with my beliefs about evolution, then my beliefs about homosexuality, then my beliefs about the inspiration of the Bible, then my beliefs about sexual purity, then my beliefs about salvation only through Christ, then my beliefs about hell. For about five years, my identity became “liberal Christian”. I embraced my own human limitations and uncertainty, and found beauty in the variety of shades of gray that replaced the black and white of fundamentalism.
To my surprise, however, my personal journey didn’t stop in liberal Christianity. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but one day, less than a year ago, I decided to face the fact that my label had to change. Even the very broad label “liberal Christian” didn’t fit anymore. I found conversations about Christianity to be extremely interesting, but conversations within Christianity were completely meaningless and empty to me. I had no desire to pray anymore, and I found the idea of sin and blood sacrifice to be very outdated and arbitrary. The idea of love in Christianity seemed more like abuse and manipulation to me. The Bible was not worth my time anymore, and church was nothing but depressing. I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t think Christianity was any different from any other religions, and that I seriously doubted that god even existed, much less that he was actively involved in the affairs of the world.
That is how I arrived at my new label: agnostic. It was a very uncomfortable label to put on, mostly due to residual fundamentalist emotions that bounce around in my head on occasion. Some of the discomfort also came from immediately being seen as a tragedy or a project by the few Christian friends and family in my life. However, I was lucky enough to miss out on the greatest discomfort because my husband has taken a very similar journey as me, at nearly the same time. Overall, the small discomfort I experienced was short-lived, and the label now feels like a natural part of me; I’m quite happy with the fit, and with the colorful view from here.
My own journey was incredibly similar to what Latebloomer describes here. The weird thing is that the point where I went from liberal Christian to agnostic/atheist happened so gradually I almost didn’t even notice it. I was still going to church, still professing belief, and it just slipped away. Some of the core tenets of Christianity stopped making sense to me, and I began to view Christianity in a solely anthropological sense. It wasn’t conscious. It wasn’t intentional. And it’s not something I can just snap my fingers and undo—at risk of sounding dismissive, it sort of feels (to me at least) like the moment you realize that Santa isn’t real—you simply can’t go back after that. (That said, around the same time I read Latebloomer’s post I also read one by Samantha of Defeating the Dragons, in which she described how ritual and tradition brought her back to Christianity after a period of agnosticism.)
Growing up in evangelical circles, I thought people picked a label and then stayed there. Sure, some people converted to evangelicalism and others backslid, but I didn’t appreciate just how fluid identities could be, how much people’s religious beliefs could change over their lives, sometimes more than once. I find it fascinating—and liberating. Life is a journey, and I am and always will be a work in progress.