My Extimony: From Faith to Freedom

I was a PK for the first 11 years of my life when my family lived in Missouri. My parents had met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where my dad got his PhD in Theology, and my mom dropped out to start making babies after she met my dad and got married after only 8 or 9 months. She had been planning on going into foreign missions, reportedly, but I think she was looking for her MRS degree.

When I was 11, my parents had four daughters (I was the third), we were scraping by financially, and my dad started experiencing physical problems that were caused by his lifelong depression. My mom thought his stressful two-job lifestyle there was unhealthy for him, so we moved near my mom’s family in Virginia. My dad had self-taught himself computer programming and software development, so he found a really good job as a software developer in Williamsburg, VA. His health improved, and he was no longer preaching. My short-lived PK days were over.

My whole relationship with the church through all of this perhaps wasn’t typical for a PK. I don’t remember feeling any sort of pressure to perform or to be perfect just because I was the pastor’s kid. We had a relatively small congregation in Missouri, and the entire atmosphere was very friendly. My dad is the scholarly/intellectual type, so his sermons weren’t ever particularly fire and brimstone, though he did teach that hell is a real place.

I was saved at the age of 10 when I took it upon myself to say my own sinner’s prayer. I can distinctly remember knowing how important it was for me to make this step on my own and have it be a genuine confession. After my prayer, I felt that sort of lighter-than-air euphoria that I was told I’d feel when this time came, so I ran to my mother to tell her what had happened. She was happy for me but said that I’d have to go talk to my dad in his office at church on Sunday so that he could hear the account from me and assess whether it was a “true” conversion. I thought this was sort of silly since I lived with the man, but I went along with it. After my meeting with dad on Sunday, he proclaimed me saved, and he baptized me the following Sunday.

Throughout both middle and high school, I only remember positive experiences with church. Sure, I’d get bored during sermons. I also wasn’t very intense about evangelism and surrounding myself only with church friends. I had atheist friends as well as Christian throughout my life. Going into college, I had come to the conclusion that most Christians are hypocritical anyway, so I didn’t want to get involved with any campus ministries. It took a couple of months for me to even bother to find a church to attend when my mom started guilting me into it. I became pretty lonely and depressed that first semester, which I took as a sign of needing fellowship. That was when I decided to get “plugged in” to campus ministry and joined the Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM).

That started a whirlwind 3.5 years of me becoming super Christian, leading multiple Bible studies and having younger girls look up to me, taking them out for coffee so that I could pseudo-mentor them, and I even worked as a Wilderness Counselor at a PCA Christian camp after my freshman year of college. I also co-ran a church service on campus that was intended to reach out to college kids who didn’t want to make the effort to get off campus to go to church but were willing to come to our service upstairs from one of the dining areas. That was actually kind of neat, though I did meet some people through that who were part of my process out of Christianity.

Throughout college (I went to a public university), I took religion classes and became exposed to a LOT of ideas that I had been previously shielded from. As expected, this sent me spiraling into doubt off and on, and by the end of senior year my doubt had grown so intense that I sunk into a deep depression. I could barely force myself to go to class, and I could rarely refrain from crying once I got to class. It was horrible. I managed to stick it out, though the last month was hell, and about three months after graduation, I officially realized and accepted that I was no longer a Christian. It took a few more months after that for me to conclude that I was an atheist.

I think that nothing in my story was marked by feeling burned by the Church or the church because the fading away of my faith was almost completely intellectual. Previously, I thought that I had been standing in the place of humility by confessing my subservience to God and feeling like I could learn about the actual character of God, but it turns out I wasn’t in a position of intellectual humility until I confessed that I couldn’t claim to know or even believe all of the things I’d been taught in church. At the time I lost my faith, it wasn’t so much that I thought the Bible was all wrong. It was that I didn’t know how to trust that it was right, and I no longer felt like I needed to believe it in order to love and pursue truth. I could no longer understand the virtue of faith when I stepped back and saw that I was believing for all of the same reasons as a Muslim, Mormon or Jew. Maybe I was wrong just like them. Nothing in the realm of spirituality was compelling to me anymore, and it hasn’t been since.

It took several months for me to mellow out from the initial trauma of losing my faith, and then I started working through my simultaneous realization that I’m probably at least partly gay if not very gay. I’m still in process with that, but I enjoy my life right now even though I’m in the heart of the Bible belt. 

Oh, and my family is all still really Christian, and they’re very sad about my atheism. We just don’t really talk about it. :D

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One Comment on “My Extimony: From Faith to Freedom”

  1. PHIL RATZLAFF says:

    Yep, missionary kid myself…who is working out his own salvation…sacriledge isn’t it? But woe unto him whose working out involves deep searching of ones own mind and soul…to many questions..uh, oh. Sigh. 59 years old, and the questions build…good.


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