A very long time ago, I lay in the bed I shared with my husband on a Saturday night, watching the darkness slowly become a Sunday morning, and I realized I was completely done with Christianity.
I think most of us ex-Christians can point to a moment like that one–a moment when we realize that we’re completely over our religious faith. Stick a fork in us–we’re done! We’ve seen something that just can’t be unseen, read something we can’t ever forget, realized something that pushes us so far outside the nest that an inexorable, inevitable, unmistakable tipping point is reached inside ourselves. That point can look different for everybody. A Bible verse that doesn’t trip one person up might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for someone else. An atrocity that gets cheerily brushed away by one person destroys another person’s faith. A contradiction that is soothed by an apologetics trick for one person remains a serious sticking point to someone else. I’ll tell you about the things that went into my realization soon. For now, just know that I’d finally hit my limit.
This night occurred in the mid-90s. I’d graduated from college a couple of years previously, but a lot of things had happened that had completely shaken my once-rock-solid faith in Christianity. I can be stubborn, but even I couldn’t deny what was happening eventually. I’d had to learn some very hard lessons both about my faith system and about what that faith system was doing to me.
Just before you stepped into the story, I had spent the evening in wracking sobs and one last desperate Bible study. I admit, it hadn’t even occurred to me before that night that I would not find what I needed in the Bible. I mean, didn’t I have a relationship with no less than the author of the entire universe, a being who loved me more than anything? So no: it didn’t even occur to me that in my moment of extreme need I wouldn’t get the care and reassurance I needed so much. For hours I’d prayed desperately, cried out till my throat cracked, and studied as hard as I could–and found not only no answers or reassurance, but only emptiness and more questions. I hadn’t slept a single wink all night, either; I’d tossed and turned until finally in one crystal-clear moment of perfect clarity I realized that I no longer believed in Christianity–and that every one of the problems I was having with this religion would be swept away and resolved if it simply wasn’t objectively true.
At that point I had a decision to make. Did I stay in the religion anyway, faking enthusiasm and playing along in the hopes that I’d regain my onetime faith? Or did I fly free?
I chose to fly free, and I haven’t regretted that decision even one second since then. I still remember the exact second I realized, as the dawn lit the bedroom in soft gray light, that I could just not go to church that morning, or ever again, and there really wasn’t anything anybody could do about it.But the decision–though the right one for me–was fraught with difficulty. I was at the time married not only to a fervent Christian (like I had been!) but to a Christian who was a lay preacher and youth pastor angling for full-time ministry. I myself had been very involved in church life and had to untangle from all of that.
And I was completely on my own. I didn’t know anybody who was an ex-Christian. There was nobody for me to talk to at all, and no resources whatsoever to help me understand, much less recover from, what had happened to me. I knew some atheists and other non-Christians, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking to them–I’d been an overzealous twit to
almost all some of them, and of the others, I wasn’t sure they’d understand at all what I was experiencing. I certainly couldn’t hope to find empathy or understanding from my onetime tribe of Christians, either. Without a real-life support network, there was no support at all for someone in my position; my deconversion happened before the internet was really a big thing (to help you understand a little, AOL wasn’t even named AOL yet; I’d only just stopped hanging out on dial-up BBSs and instead was delving into Usenet). Certainly I didn’t know of any books or videos that could help me make sense of my experience. I had to completely reinvent the wheel and I was doing it by myself in a very hostile environment.
My husband was predictably upset at my declaration that morning that I didn’t want to go to church anymore, finally saying that we’d talk about it later. After he left, I stayed in bed for a while longer, watching the sunshine get stronger and stronger through the thin curtains.
That night had been one of the hardest nights of my entire life. I felt like I’d wept several lifetimes’ worth of tears. Now, though, I felt curiously ready. Far from feeling desolate and lifeless, I felt like a butterfly that had climbed out of its chrysalis and was resting before it could take its first flight. I felt like I weighed twenty pounds less. I felt like the only thing holding me to earth was the comforter wrapped around me. I’m a tabletop gamer from way way back so I thought of it then–and still do–as having made my “roll to disbelieve”–a lucky break had allowed me to see through a massive illusion, and now I couldn’t see the illusion anymore even if I tried.
I began blogging about a year and a half ago. In that time I’ve talked about how I got to this night, the journey I took after it, and a lot of other stuff besides. But it always comes down to that moment when I realized that none of this was real and I couldn’t stay involved in a religion that made claims that weren’t really true. The only question after that moment was what to do next.