When I moved away from home at 20 (for a brief internship) and again at 21, I more or less stopped going to church. I considered myself a Christian, but my introversion ultimately prevailed over the requirement to seek a new church home. For a brief period I attended a church with an extreme view on fellowship (like it NEVER ended: the single members of the church even lived together in large apartments), which was nice because they were very friendly and welcoming, but eventually the pressure to spend every waking moment with other people was too much to take.
At 22 I joined the military, and spent 2 months in boot camp (where I attended church once, then was discouraged by the paperwork involved to go), then went to training school, where at first I tried to attend chapel every week. Eventually I stopped going there, too; having to spend my one day away from intense training with a bunch of other people in a forced social situation was too much.
It was at this point that I began to realize that I couldn’t honestly recommend Christianity to other people. I still believed that I would go to hell if I didn’t meet the requirements, but I didn’t want to convince other people to convert, because I didn’t want them to suffer the fear and never-ending guilt I lived with every day. I tried harder and harder to do the right thing, but no matter how much I did, I always felt guilty for all the stuff I DIDN’T do.
I also began working with a lot of people from other cultures and faith backgrounds, and what I saw didn’t correspond to what Christianity had led me to believe. I had been taught that all other religions were false, and that they were worthless both for helping people to live good lives and for achieving heaven. But the normal, moral people I met belied that principle. Their moral systems were very close to Christianity, and they even understood their faith in the same way Christians did. It began to seem that one’s religion was more a part of the culture one was born in than a single truth besieged by falsehood. I didn’t feel right trying to tell these intelligent, moral people that they were bound for hell unless they converted to my religion.
It was at this point as well that I began to feel crippled by Christian standards. If I held to what I had been taught, I would have secluded myself in a tiny social bubble with the other Christians, careful to avoid the unbelievers lest they taint me. I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to be able to be friends with the people I worked with and not divide them into mental boxes for “clean” and “unclean.”
Ultimately I decided that I couldn’t continue to follow Christianity. It wasn’t so much that I disbelieved it, but I couldn’t find enough reason to believe in it. The strain of trying to follow all of the rules had worn me down; I concluded that while Christianity might work for some people, I wasn’t capable of doing it.
Christianity didn’t seem to conform to the world as I knew it, and on a personal level I couldn’t continue destroying myself trying to meet the standards.
Next time: why I became a Deist