It was requested that I write about my and my husband's journey away from Christianity, and so my hope is that someone would find camaraderie or understanding (and hopefully acceptance) of my change through this post.
From what I have experienced and heard of, our story is a little unusual in a few respects. For one thing, my husband and I weren't always looked down on in our churches as the bold "rebels" and "sinners," unless you count rebelling by going away from the crowd to the ultra right wing. No, instead we were usually put in leadership positions like music or youth pastor, or at least S.S. teachers and in the choir, and doing special music a lot. No matter the personal issues we had, we were always well respected as conscientious thinkers. So our leaving wasn't because of any accusations, bitterness or hurt feelings from being caught "sinning."
Secondly, though my husband and I finally left Christianity a couple of years apart, our marriage hardly suffered at all for it . . .it actually improved in many ways! But that was only the last and final leaving . . .
Let me start by saying though that it came about in a bit of an ebb and flow, at least for my hubby. There was a time my husband had issues with Christianity and out of offense of a few pastors being unteachable when approached with inconsistencies and doctrinal problems as well, my husband (ignorantly I'd say) called himself an Atheist for a few years.
Now, I have always had a bit of an idol worship of my husband, his ethics and his mind especially. In college our friends said I was like his pupil in many ways. I respected few if any men at the time, so I knew that it was a good thing to be respecting him if I were suppose to be submitting to this man in the future as his wife. I also had a lot of arrogance in my own Bible knowledge though and pride in how I lived what I believed the Bible taught, my whole life. I even bragged that from the time I was 12, I never said no to God. (My conscience, the Holy Spirit . . .) So when my husband went from youth/music pastor 3 times over to calling himself an Atheist the first time, I had a lot of conflicting emotions because of how that reflected on me as a wife, and what my role should be now.
I first saw him study and pour over books and the internet to find SOME religion that made sense. Though I respected questioning most everything in life, and was known for that since I was little, I was taught that anyone who questioned if there was a God was a "fool"! Because, well, "The Bible tells me so" . . . Consequently, I put my head in the sand, and judged him a fool for questioning the Bible or God.
I was also taught that to love your husband more then God was wrong, as God should be your first priority. I had prayed frequently that I could be tested because I was feeling guilty that I didn't put God first enough in my life. Furthermore, I saw this as my way to prove to myself and God how I loved Him more then my husband. So I stood fast in my beliefs, and continued to go to my church without him. I pushed my blind faith and judgmentalism on my husband, but instead of convicting and converting him, surprisingly (to me at the time), it did nothing but alienate him from me. (I didn't see that as my fault for a long time though.)
He tried to lose himself in work, music and entertainment but even that wasn't good enough to make him happy while living under the oppression of a religious wife. He had too much intelligence and character to start any stupid habits to help him and he felt trapped and miserably lonely. We only had one baby girl at the time, but even though my "training" of her was very religiously based and controlling (making all of us miserable), it was mostly duty to her, and the fact that I was completely dependent on his job, that kept him from leaving me at that point.
Thankfully, while tired and stressed, he had an out-of-body-experience that, at the time, (because he had been praying before dozing off) he saw as proof for the Biblical God. (The mind plays funny tricks on you when you are conditioned just right, and between sleep and being awake. Ever notice how everything is a miracle if it proves your beliefs?) So he in one day went from Atheist, to believing in The God of the Bible again.
Part of me had been listening to the struggles my husband had with the condition of the hypocritical Christian church though, and so we started looking for a denomination/sect that was actually living what they taught, and that was very "Biblical" . . . Mike was convinced at that point that the only thing that made him question the Bible was how it was lived out in people, and so he set about to prove the Bible really was good, by finding people who actually followed it.
First, we found a few individuals that seemed good; then we found out that they were part of a church in a house. Seemed innocent enough, but they were (we found out much later) part of a huge organization (a cult?) of home churches who just called themselves "Friends." Sadly, they had no united standards, and allowed single lady evangelists, so we knew (as you would too if you were a good Christian you know:) that they weren't following classically understood Biblical principles, even though so much was good about them! So we left, conveniently in a strange turn of events, (orchestrated of course by God we figured) as to not raise suspicion and hurt feelings . . .
We then found another cult called" Charity . . ." through some "free tapes." While not having to join them, their tapes were very convincing and "Biblical" so very controlling! With no real people to mess with, we started to almost idolize some of these preachers on the tapes. (So much so that when one of the tape ministry Evangelists called Keith Daniels came to a primitive campground in our area just last year, all the way from South Africa, we wanted to see him and spent a miserable cold weekend tenting just so we could . . .as Agnostics!)
We became very judgmental and self-righteous as we took on more and more of their thoughts on the historical Beliefs and ways of the true disciple of Christ. We wondered why everyone wasn't seeing this in the Bible, because it was so obvious! I hear that so often now, that it is to me the biggest red flag of self-righteousness.
They seemed sincere though, and innocent, and seemed to live out holiness in their work and family life from what we heard about on the tapes, but we started to see it as the cult it was when we visited the religious hub the tapes originated in. They were that way because of complete control from the crib on up. Their nursery was only to spank or nurse the babies, and then you were to take them back into the service where they would be quiet or you were given dirty looks until you took them back for another beating. Their children and especially teens were obviously miserable, and all of them had a quiet sullenness that was unnatural. I was even accused of not appreciating "God's blessings" (children) because I only had only one child after 3 1/2 years of marriage. (They sympathized little with the stress of religion bringing me infertility for almost 4 years! They all had big families, and were encouraged to adopt if they couldn't have their own.)
Both of the groups claimed to be "God's true church," and in that way segregated themselves from the rest of the pathetic excuses of Christianity. They were united, community minded, and mostly loving, as well as living a good life in most every way. We actually would have stayed with the groups because of their wonderful lifestyles and community, but we were convicted of a doctrine or two not being Biblical. So we idealized this true "Bride of Christ" existing, feeling holier the longer we looked for it . . . because if this perfect unity (character), humility (ethics), and doctrine (intelligence and background) existed in a church, surely we would belong in it. We would be in Heaven on earth!
Not immediately finding this church, we continued to listen to the tapes while looking into world events with an ultra religious mindset, and saw "the mark of the beast" coming in RFIDs. We were convinced that some of the weather patterns and political happenings were indicative of "the end times." So wanting to be more self sufficient, in case the Pre-trib people were wrong, we decided to run from the city away to the mountains because, well, "The Bible tells me so". . .
We weren't alone in any of this either, we had my husband's parents fully convinced that we needed to move out of the city as well . . .but we found out later, that we all had our own individual motivations. So we went from Santa Maria California, and moved as far as it took to be able to afford a property in the woods . . .WA, close to the border, and over the mountains from Seattle.
Being discouraged with churches and having moved out into the boonies alone (but on the same property with the in-laws), our two families were a recipe for disaster! To make matters worse, I had just had a baby. We made a two week trip all together in an RV, and all our stuff in trailers and a truck when the baby was 2 weeks old. I was hormonal, had left all my friends, and uprooted my city lifestyle, as well as had the stress of a baby who I was doing elimination communication with for the first time. I was miserable, and if the rest of them weren't before, I helped make them! :)
After less then a month, out shopping one day we all met a shop keeper down town that greatly impressed us. We figured he was a part time pastor or something, and yet he told us that he was just another average Joe in his church. Then testing this "godly" man, we asked him if he liked his church? (The normal response we usually got from "godly" people is the honest "It's not perfect, but if it was, I wouldn't belong in it." Or "there are some good people in it . . ." Or, "I'm still looking and "home-churching it", or "I'm in-between churches right now.") He said to our great surprise, that he would leave his wallet or keys with any member of his church, he trusted them so much! That was impressive we thought, and so after hardly anyone (but me . . .) considering what title was on the church building, we decided to go the next Sunday. He invited us over to his house afterward church and we started a 5 year relationship with some of the best group of Christians we have even met. Nothing but good memories with those good folks . . .sigh.
While accepting us as good people, and finally even fellow Christians though, we found it was no small feat to be accepted as "members" into that church . . .so it's no wonder our friend trusted the "members" so much. We were about to join and take the plunge when we finally left.
There was a lot to gain by membership, but also a lot to give up on our parts to join. Most of which bothered us was the giving up of our individual conscience to the group's conscience (through votes . . .most of which were done before you were even born!). We were told that to stand out was wrong, and we needed to be like the tree in the forest. To be different was prideful in their minds.
We also had an issue with the (sadly biblical) practice of shunning those who left the faith. My ethics told me it would be wrong to not eat with your own husband, or have marital relations with him if he left the church. And my experience with him going away from Christianity before taught me that I would be in the wrong, and be hurting the relationship (not him) if I looked down my nose at him in any way, and for any, even justified, reason. So in the end, I was willing for all the rules on dresses and nylons and shoes, wearing a head-covering, how to decorate my house, being told that the church boycotted my favorite health practitioners (that had saved my child's life), and being taught to look down on even my extended family as probably not even being saved . . .but my heart would not allow another church to try to break up my marriage again. So I first chose not to go back to church, and then looked up people online who escaped the cult of the Holdeman Mennonites.
So with reason and some space to think, I got some more counsel from an old Christian friend who called out of the blue. All the while I was also getting encouragement from Christian family to "get away from that cult". When we were in a seriously traumatic car wreck and had a miscarriage within a short time, with my family from Canada coming to stay with me both times I had a better perspective on who was doing the shunning now, and why it was me--because of religious dogma . . . So, though some of us four adults were convinced the church was now bad, others still believed it was "Christ's Bride." So for the sake of my family, near and far we decided to leave the church to gain perspective.
We decided to take it as a sign from God when there was a job offer from a client to work over the mountains in Seattle, and away from any sister churches to the one we were in. So we not only left the church, but also our home (that we had built and 2 babies were born in), my husband's thriving business, and our daughter's school--and ran away, giving only a few days notice to our daughter's classmates and teacher in the church school . . .which was basically a glorified home school. Sadly it was mainly planned that way because I for one knew some could change their minds if people found out and tried to talk them out of it.
Humiliated at finally realizing how controlled and duped we had been in going down the conservative christian path, my husband and I were done with church for a while we thought, but still wanted friends and support nonetheless. So when my mother-in-law found a nurturing inner city pastor who understood our plight and wanted to help us in practical ways, we again took the bait. This guy was all about practical living and helping those who had gotten into trouble, and our kind hearts found it much more fulfilling to get involved in that then to feel sorry for ourselves. So again we found ourselves involved in a church. We got exposed to the needy and messed up people of the inner city, and realized that they were being helped mostly and completely apart from religion. Sometimes because of the peer pressure from and/or idol worship of their pastor (a kind, compassionate, but strong and determined, ex-drug pusher and ex-alcoholic), and other times because of the self esteem it gave them to know that someone (even if just an imaginary friend) loved them. At this point in my husband's journey, something clicked, and instead of running back to the church across the mountains like I had expected him to do after a few months, he told me that he no longer believed in the need for a God.
The way I saw it, no one knew the difference in his life, and I wasn't going to make a big stinking deal out of it this time. I saw the stupidity and stress of the crying and constantly praying for him (preferably so he could hear me), and I wasn't about to start that up again! So I just said to myself, "I will presume that he is still an intelligent man, who is doing what he sees as right for now, and I believe that if God is still in control, and able to lead him, that he will still be listening and following, as he always has before . . .and when he's not, his life will likely show that he's miserable and wicked for it."
So when I found my husband to start being more peaceful, happy, teachable, and humble, and consequently listening to me, I was quite surprised. He then told me that I was in control of myself and my own morality now, and not needing to submit to him. Testing him then, I said I was going to do what I had always known was right, and cook for our family "God's foods."( I had been submitting to, and humoring him with unhealthy processed food from day one of our marriage, but I was sick and tired of it . . .literally!) He agreed that as I was the cook, it was my right . . .though he did eat out a lot for a while. That first few weeks of detoxing for him was not fun, but after that, it's hard to think of him as anything but a changed man! I'm still not sure if it was ditching religion or ditching bad food that changed him more:)
So as tends to happen, when one in the marriage is open to being wrong (and isn't trying to back up everything they say with "it's fact because here's the chapter and verse"), I also started to consider his thoughts. Next thing you know, when he brought a Bible verse to my attention that was teaching something immoral to the unbiased mind, I considered his thought as logical and looked for honest answers, instead of the pat answers of "God's ways are higher then our ways", or the like. When he brought up history, archaeology, science, or the stars, and how the Bible taught many things against the only now known facts of them . . .I actually considered it, and looked for answers. I got answers from the Christians on different boards online, that were specifically set up for debating the deep questions. I also tried to be unbiased by asking the same questions on Agnostic and Atheist boards as well. Comparing the answers from the two was enlightening. Sadly, I found that the group I was hoping to defend, didn't know the arguments from the other side, and certainly didn't know the answers to them (or one's that weren't circular reasoning anyhow). All their answers ended in, "You just need to have
faith and believe!" (And believe you me, I wanted to, but in the face of all the evidence against the very foundation of Christianity--the Bible--I could no more believe in it than in Santa!)
Whereas inevitably the Atheist and Agnostic boards were full of much more knowledgeable people, who knew about lots of religions (Their superiority in religious knowledge is well documented in polls by the way) even besides Christianity, and they had arguments that could be scientifically backed, not just "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." They were also much less defensive and nasty people too most of the time. Just like countries that are predominantly Atheistic, these people showed tolerance for differences like mine and compassion and understanding of them too.
Through those conversations on the debate boards I realized about how all cultures make up their religions and myths to make sense of the unknown, but that we have no need of them anymore because most of those questions are now answered! Religion, that is your relationship to Jesus Christ for you "true" Christians out there, is now an unneeded crutch that I believe is doing more harm then good.
With information being readily available and travel being more common, we are able to be enlightened as to how we appear just as foolish to other religions and cultures as they often are to us. Having this worldview will help us to be humble. How much better to approach the world with the humility that Jesus exemplified than the pride that the Christian doctrines inevitably bring. We specifically need to see that we are all just speculating about what we see from our perspective in the realms of the supernatural. We no longer need to be superstitious about what we don't know or understand in those realms . . .having to call it "magic" or proof for my religion. Nor should we burn, stone, hang, or even mentally torture those who practice (or chose not to) a form of "magic" or religion different from our own.
My journey away from religion almost instantly opened my mind to the horrors excused and done in the name of defending religion. I myself had slowly turned into this extremist that had no resemblance to the kind and compassionate person I always claimed I wanted to be like. Christ would have even hated what I had become in his name. It was actually that realization that made me go away from the last Christian church.
I feel that, if Jesus were alive today, he would be passionately by my side in my defense of the underdogs of society. Based on a Gallop poll of what beliefs Americans would tolerate in a president they voted in, I can only guess that Atheists are the top of the list for discriminated minorities, next seems to be Gays and Lesbians, and then the blacks and the poor . . .all of which have been both historically and presently abused by sincere Christians, because, well, the Bible tells them so.