For me, leaving Christianity was a multi-stage process. I was raised a moderate Christian, and like most young folk I was a simple theist: God was an entity that existed “up there” and was close enough to human that we could talk about God’s emotions, intentions and desires. Leaving that was just the first stage.
At some point I found myself a liberal non-theist. God was not an entity, God was a force or process that underlies existence. God was the ground of all being, the ultimate concern. God is ineffable, God is that which we are in absolute awe of and utterly dependent on.
And yet, like Sarah Sentilles in Breaking Up with God, I found that the old theistic ideas would not go away. I couldn’t escape the fact that I grew up as a theist with very firm ideas as to the character and nature of God. It was hard to use the old words in a new way without letting old ideas slip in. There was just too much baggage.
I also couldn’t change the fact that I was surrounded by theists who continued to hear my words in their own way. Hearing people say, “Please pray for my father, who is dying of cancer” was uncomfortable, because I now believed that prayer changed the one praying but did little to help to poor person suffering. Using the same old language of God and salvation felt dishonest, like I was trying to pass for something I wasn’t.
I’d make a piss poor gnostic. I couldn’t sit there in a service and recite the creeds that I couldn’t accept without without writing an essay on every concept and twisting the language to its breaking point. Creeds had no place in my new understanding anyway.
Finally I asked myself why I was doing this. Why was I continually trying to put new wine in old skins? Why was I tying myself in knots just to preserve a simple three letter word like God? What was I gaining by taking these abstract philosophical concepts and calling them God, when that word carried so many of the wrong connotations to myself and to those around me?
So one of the last stages of leaving Christianity was leaving behind the vocabulary of theism. Words like sin, salvation, prayer, worship and God all have meanings tied to the old understandings of theism that I no longer find useful. Keeping them around in order to maintain a connection to a religion or for the sense of profundity they provided is not worth it.