I was brought up in a Christian family – not really over the top, no totally wacky ideas, but very cultural, middle-of-the-road CofE. That meant I grew up in a church environment, and it was always part of my life, even if it wasn’t something that had any serious impact on my life outside an hour a week on Sunday mornings.
Occasionally, on those Sunday mornings, I picked up on things in readings from the Bible and thought I really ought to do something about that. I particularly remember being worried by Jesus’ warnings about rich men being unable to enter heaven and the importance of putting him before everything else. Once, I spent a sermon wondering how I would be able to live as a hermit, which I saw as the only way to obey the Bible’s teaching. Those fits of panicky holiness never lasted long, as I came to realise that no one else ever seemed to do anything differently, so I concluded that I must be misunderstanding.
The only times my vague beliefs extended outside church were when I was in trouble or needed something. I used to pray fervently whenever I hadn’t done my homework, and was hoping for some sort of get-out. I often seemed to get away with it in those situations, but that may well be confirmation bias talking.
When I went to university, church might have been something I “just did”, but it wasn’t worth getting up at 10am for – that would be crazy! So I was happily drifting away until I went through a serious life crisis and ran back for some sort of support. I ended up regularly attending not just church, but also the Christian Union, where I discovered a muscular, confident, fun form of Christianity that I’d never experienced before, a world away from the dry routine of the local church.
So I got involved, took the whole thing much more seriously, and for some time was seriously expecting to eventually go into full-time ministry. There was a lot of culture shock, and I had to work through a lot of issues with shyness with people expecting me to tell strangers about my deepest thoughts and feelings, but overall, it was a positive experience, and it brought about a substantial change (for the better, I think) in my character.
After a while, I naively got involved in online discussions with atheists, not going out of my way to convert anyone, but frequently taking the bait when Christianity was ridiculed, and trying to argue the point. It was one of those debates that was responsible for the first breach in my previously impregnable certainty. When historical accuracy came up, I went to research the Gospel accounts and found that the conservative Christian account was surprisingly weak. When I mentioned this to some Christians I respected, they brushed me off, saying that there was more evidence for Jesus than Julius Caesar. That obviously ludicrous claim started to get me really worried.
In hindsight, I think everything else stems from that. Over time, I tried to shore up my shaken beliefs by getting more involved in charismatic churches, on the basis that supernatural experiences could cover for any annoying holes in the rational basis for my beliefs. It worked for a while, and I found a few other ways of staving off the inevitable, but eventually I reached the conclusion that it wasn’t working, and both the conservative theology and the wacky practice was just making me more uncomfortable, so I left.
I wasn’t ready to admit that I no longer believed, so I retreated to a church with a more relaxed, slightly mystical approach, which is where I am now. I steer clear of too much in-depth discussion of belief, especially mine, and view the process as a continuation of my previous distant, cultural connection with the church.
Truth be told, there are parts of Christianity that I quite like in some ways, I just don’t happen to believe that it’s true. My aim here is to work out what I believe and decide on a course of action for the future.
Since writing this, a lot has happened. If you want to know more, check out the category History of Me.