At the age of 12 I became a born again, Evangelical, Pentecostal Christian (try saying that fast 10 times!) Christianity became the most important part of my identity and I took it very seriously. Many would consider me a fundamentalist as I went around school “preachin’ the gospel” to everyone who didn’t want to know. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that telling people not to swear, but to believe in Jesus or they’d end up in hell does not work and just means you have few friends.
By the age of 16 I had become interested in politics thanks to getting involved in community projects and campaigns and this led me to investigate left wing Christianity (I had always thought of it from a Conservative viewpoint before). I read books like “God’s Politics” by Jim Wallis and “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne and through their influence I began to develop an interest in contemplative Christian traditions. I started to research other denominations and realised that they had good reasons for believing what they did – even though that was different to what I believed. This led me to begin questioning the doctrines of the church and I spent months and months researching. The problem is that when you start questioning, you just can’t stop. By the time I got to university I was researching Messianic Judaism, Armstrongism and Unitarianism and trying to work out what the original Christianity would have been. I realised how much of Christianity was based on Paganism (something I saw as bad at the time) and how its “contamination” with Greek philosophy had changed it into something completely unrecognisable from what Jesus would have known. I finally understood the implications of Jesus being Jewish – that he would have believed in one god not a trinity (and never claimed to be god), that he would have celebrated Jewish festivals like Passover not Christmas, and that most of the other doctrines of the Church were completely unbiblical – including the doctrines of hell, going to heaven when you died, Jesus’ sacrifice as an appeasement of an angry god and original sin.
Through discussions with friends at school and university, I began to realise that I needed to take science seriously and try to work out whether the creation story of Genesis could conform to science (yes I was a creationist in my teenage years). I researched the evidence for Evolution and came to the conclusion that it stood up to scrutiny. Further research online helped me understand that it was possible for the two to be in agreement (however I knew at the back of my mind that I could no longer take the Bible completely literally to do so.) I also began to research alternative ways of viewing the book of Revelation and that reduced the influence on me of the dangerous and frankly frightening obsession that many western Christians have in the apocalypse.
By the age of 22 I had come to the conclusion that most of Christianity was false, but I still believed strongly in the existence of God, as well taking Jesus and the Bible seriously. However, two events in early 2010 would change that drastically. The first was that I watched a TV programme which included a gay couple and it looked so normal. As quite a fundamentalist Christian, I had spent all my teenage years struggling and resisting the truth I knew inside about my sexuality. After seeing that programme I began to research homosexuality in the Bible and came to the conclusion that, like most other things, the Church had got it wrong on this one too. I was finally able to come to terms with being gay and soon after I came out to my friends and family. Thankfully, and despite the shock and challenge to their faith, they accepted me.
However, a month later one of my best friends was killed in a car accident. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, it hit me very hard. After his death I began to look for answers within Christianity and it led to me reading books by liberal Christian authors like Marcus Borg. They showed me how historians viewed the Bible and that destroyed what was left of my literalism. I began to see the contradictions in the bible, the fact that it didn’t fit the archaeology and from watching many videos on the internet, I realised that there was a lot of immoral stuff within it that I couldn’t accept would come from a good god. I also realised that if god was real he could have stopped my friends death but he either wasn’t real or wanted it to happen making him evil. Either way, any faith in a loving god was gone. The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle came about six months after my friend was killed. I came across a video called “my spirituality as an atheist” which made me realise that its quite possible to be spiritual without believing in a god. That it was ok. From that point on, I was no longer a Christian and my journey away from Jesus was complete. Next week, I’ll explore how I see Jesus now.