Losing My Religion: The Final Fear Frontier

    I’d done it. I’d sincerely questioned the most fundamental tenet of my Christian faith, and I had to admit that it was at least as likely that Jesus of Nazareth was a bit nutty (or a bit deceitful) as it was likely that he was literally the Son of God. In that case, though of course there was no proof, per se, that Jesus was not divine and the potential agent of all humans’ salvation, what compelling case was there for maintaining my stated religious identity? I didn’t like the way the church dealt with women, or the LGBT population, or sexuality in general, really; it felt much better to think there was no afterlife than that there was (in my opinion, an eternity anywhere, including paradise, sounds terrifying); and, I had been disabused of the conviction that, throughout all of human history, Christianity was the only pathway to God.

    So, was I ready to say it? That I was no longer a Christian? Unlike, say, Judaism, in which there is a often a component of ethnic and/or cultural identity tied in with--or existing even apart from--religious practice, Christianity seems to exist purely as a set of doctrines with some variation in the details between denominations. Surely there are people here and there who identify as Christians who go by a definition broader than this--people who are actually agnostic and don’t necessarily think Jesus’ resurrection was a literal event and are universalists--but let’s allow the exception to prove the rule.  Thus, if I no longer believed that Jesus was born of a virgin or sent to save the world by dying or was living now, in Heaven, there wasn’t much left tying me to my faith, right?

    Only this one thing: judgment. Now, the issue of judgment from and by my (soon-to-be ex) fellow Christians certainly became pertinent as I walked away from the church, and I’ll address that soon, but what I mean here is the judgment of our supreme leader, God. Hadn’t I just decided that I didn’t really believe in that God, though? Yes, yes indeed I had. But, I had also spent the last two and a half decades buying into very emotional messages about what happens to those who reject that God: eternal pain and suffering. Eternal separation from love and happiness. In other words, Hell.

    A reasonable person might think that there would be no sense in being fearful of an afterlife one has realized one does not believe in, and that certainly makes logical sense. But Evangelicalism doesn’t operate on logic; it operates (ironically, given Jesus’ teachings) on fear. And there was a part of me that was still scared. Well, “scared” might be an overly dramatic word; perhaps, more accurately, I was worried. After all, in addition to Lewis’ Trilemma, I was also well trained in Pascal’s Wager, which states that if we’re wondering about whether Christianity is worth it, and the cost of saying yes is a moral if prudish life and the cost of saying no is perpetually drowning in a lake of fire, wouldn’t you rather bet on Jesus? As I said, fear.

    The thing is, I was done being afraid. I was fucking done with it. I was ready to believe in myself, and celebrate myself, both in terms of what I truly felt was good and right and what I honestly didn’t know. I did not want to be a Christian anymore; there was too much baggage and too much necessary disingenuousness attached to the label for me. So I decided to try calling Pascal on his stupid bluff.

    I set myself free, thank...whoever. But it was only, at that point, on the inside. It still took me a while to start talking about it. It’s been, oh, six or seven years since that silent soul surgery I performed on myself and I’m only now describing the story in this much detail to this many people. It still feels weird to say out loud that I’m no longer a Christian; I usually have a strong urge to qualify. It is a process, and I’m still going through it. Please bear with me as I gladly bear with myself.