I became a Christian believer at the tender age of 9. I read the New Testement and immediately fell in love with Jesus. A few years later at the age of 12 I was offered the chance to be baptized but I opted out. I was terrified of going in front of a bunch of people and reveal my faith to the world. I participated in the church youth group until I graduated High School. I was considered to be very spiritual. I remember going to a youth group retreat and praying that I would find genuine Christianity and a real conversion.
My sister was going to a church so after a semester of spiritual backsliding I felt compelled to try it out. I met some girls who were also attending the University of Colorado. I gave one of them my number. She called me and invited me to a Bible talk. I thought it was harmless so I went. Next thing I knew I was studying the Bible with them. I studied for seven months. I was baptized on July 3, 1988. I was really excited. My prayer had been answered. I spent the next 20 years trying really hard to be a good disciple of Jesus. Most of the time I felt like a spiritual failure. Having Bipolar disorder really made hard for me to live up to the demanding standard of discipleship that people in the church taught.
I felt incredibly burdened to spread the Gospel to all creation and be a perfect disciple. It was exhausting. I saw a therapist in 2002 and realized how much the church had damaged me emotionally and spiritualy. The constant "discipling" by people who were over me in the Lord really corrupted my self-esteem. I couldn't go to church for a while. Then I was nagged for not going to church. When I had a panic attack at church I realized this environment was wrong. I was afraid to leave because I didn't want to go to hell. I stayed but my love for God was gone. I no longer believed that he would protect me and take care of me. We went through an eighteen month period of unemployment. We lost the house. We almost ended up on the street except for the help of people in the church and my mother-in-law.
In 2004 I had a severe manic episode. I was in the hospital for two weeks. After I got out I was severely depressed and suicidal. I remained that way for 3 years. During that time going to church became a burden. I hooked up with a forum online that talked about my church. I decided to leave. I still had faith in God, though. After about a year away from the church I began to doubt the existence of God. I began to wonder if my spirituality was connected to my illness. When I was manic I was very religious and spiritual. I could feel the presence of God. When I was depressed I felt that God was condemning me. I just didn't feel God's presence anymore. I began to see the contradictions in God's personality and wondered how on earth was anyone supposed to be able to please such a volatile personality. The concept of hell baffled me too. How can a loving god send most of his creation to hell for not choosing to obey Him or follow Him? It made no sense. I concluded that God did not exist. At least the God that is written about in the Bible,Koran, or Book of Mormon.
I went through a period of sadness and mourning for my faith. I missed praying and being in the fellowship. I was also extremely anxious because I realized there was no God watching over me there were no angels fighting for my safety. I stayed in touch with some friends from my church but I no longer had the same outlook on life they had. They still hoped that what I was going through was a phase and I would repent and return to the church. After a year or so, I began to feel better. The anxiety faded and the sense that I was condemned to hell went away. I began to feel more alive and thankful for the small blessings in life. The idea of heaven was hard to part with especially after my sister died.
I now believe that we are spiritually recycled. Nature recycles everything so why not our souls? Who we are dies with us but a part of us becomes part of another life. I think Evolution is a theory that is still in development and isn't perfect. It is an observation of nature and I accept it as the closest thing we have to what happened to life. Now when I think of the Bible I think it's a nice fictional story. I don't think Jesus ever really existed. He was created by men. So were Mary and the disciples. I think there is a purpose to nature and it is directed somehow by a force of life but that isn't a God necessarily.
I feel better as an atheist than I ever did as a Christian. The guilt and drive to be perfect has melted away into a general feeling of goodwill towards mankind. I don't fear death as it is a natural cycle of life. I still have some anxiety about life but I don't feel suicidal and defeated when I did as a Christian.
I don't think being a Christian was a waste of time. My character was forged in church and I made some lifelong friends. I think there are good things about Christianity I just don't need it in my life at this point.