Hi. I’m Lyndsay, and I’m an agnostic. I say this as if I have stepped into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting because my transition from “believer” to “non-believer” feels somewhat pathologic. The purpose of my story is not proselytism; I simply wish to articulate how difficult and consuming this transformation was for me, and in doing so, hopefully feel less alone.
My pious history
I “accepted Christ into my heart” at the tender age of nine. For several weeks, hellish nightmares continually plagued me, each one implicating my death. As I grappled with my own mortality, I clung to my parents, desperate for a way to avoid the perils that loomed menacingly in front of me.
Like the generations before them, both my mom and dad are devoted Christians, dedicated to raising their children steeped in the Word. My mother immediately called the associate pastor of our church for assistance with my existential crisis.
Teary-eyed, I explained that I did not want to die and I did not understand why I had to. She gently reassured me that there was an easy solution: I could have eternal life in Christ. I agreed to pray the necessary prayer, naïvely watching as everyone in the room solemnly bowed their heads.
I kept my eyes wide open throughout it all, soaking the ritual in without fully participating. For at least six years after, I was haunted by the notion that I should have closed my eyes with the group. Consequently, I “rededicated” myself to Christ on three separate occasions, terrifyingly convinced that I had performed the first time incorrectly, voiding my admission into heaven.
As I advanced through secondary school, Christianity became an inseparable part of my adolescent identity. I was heavily involved in my church and actively participated in evangelical extracurriculars.
I engaged in daily quiet times — private sessions with God intended to immerse the believer in spiritual meditation. At age 13, I participated in my church’s purity seminar for teens, where I took a vow of abstinence before the Lord. My parents gave me a diamond purity ring — a gift intended to reinforce the significance of my virginity as a bride to Christ.
At age 15, I became determined that mere attendance did not suffice. I felt God calling me to effectively utilize my “spiritual gifts.” In dutiful response, I began leading a Bible study for every girl in my grade.
Each week, roughly 30 girls came to my home, sat in my living room, and attentively listened to my prepared lesson. At the time, I genuinely felt humbled by the idea of God stirring the hearts of my community through me. Retrospectively, I am ashamed that I felt compelled to spiritually oversee my peers.
At age 18, my church small group upped the ante, wary that graduation was just around the corner. I was cautioned that my college educators would stray from the Word and attempt to plug my brain with blasphemous slander. I prepped myself by committing several verses to memory, including one that comes to mind now:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)
Goodbye, sense of self
When I emerged from the bubble of my hometown and began my studies at the University of Virginia, my heart was being pulled in contrary directions. I wanted to resist becoming a captive of deceit, but I could not ignore the fact that my doubts toward Christianity were mounting.
At this point, I was in the engineering school and none of my professors were even speaking of religion, much less scheming to inculcate me with the “spiritual forces of this world.” Yet, I started voluntarily distancing myself from the religion that had once defined me.
In high school, everyone had put me in a box. Gradually, I felt suffocated from being stuffed in a box that could not contain me. The freedoms of college, and my deliberate decision to move far from my city, enabled me to lift the box’s lid.
Once I was given the opportunity to breathe a breath of fresh, secular air, I could more easily acknowledge that Christianity is a way of life, not the way of life. I desperately wanted a different way of life, but coming to terms with that flagrant fact was the hardest thing I have ever endured.
I do not mean to sound so dramatic, but the changes rousing inside of me truly shook me to my core. I was a Christian. This label was all-encompassing — it felt completely impervious to change. If I abandoned God, I would be stuck starting from scratch, discarding my entire identity along with my Maker.
More than just a loss of sense of self, I would be stripped of security, hope, and companionship. But I could not will myself to believe any longer. Next to my bed stood a stack of devotionals for youths, designed to tackle conflicts I might potentially face. I stopped highlighting them and started shoving them to the side. I became paralyzed by depression. If you are told enough times that nonbelievers go to Hell, you start to buy into it.
Farewell, rose-colored glasses
There are moments in my adult life where I want to legitimately run around kicking and screaming because I consider myself having been brainwashed. My parents are genuine believers who care more about the welfare of my soul than anything else. As such, my formative years were filled with limited exposure to pagan influences and my young, impressionable mind encountered other religions in an exclusively negative light. I balked at irreligious people, wondering what they were thinking and pitying their succumbing to Satan.
I had difficulties with the concept of otherness because I was taught that Jesus was the one, true God. I was implicitly trained to keep nonbelievers at an appropriate distance, praying for them from afar, but not allowing myself much contact with their devilish ways.
I was under the spell of a false pretense: that I was thinking for myself. In reality, I had not chosen Christianity, I was born into it, and I viewed the world through rose-colored glasses, splattered with the blood of Christ.
I do not intend to demean the experiences of my pious history. I truly love my church and appreciate the friendships that have derived from my formerly faithful attendance.
Most importantly, I owe my current wealth of religious knowledge to my upbringing, and I feel blessed to understand the detailed history behind such culturally significant literature. Out of my prolific Christian education stemmed a desire to investigate additional creeds later on.
In college, I double-majored in psychology and religious studies, as I was fascinated by humanity’s quest for meaning and transcendence. I see the incalculable value in learning how belief systems drive societies, and I have dived deep into the holy books and backgrounds of faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Wicca.
Religion is a formidable force capable of both division and union — to misunderstand or ignore this power is an injustice to the spirit of humanity.
Unfortunately, the same spiritually explorative nature that emerged from my Christian childhood proved a high price to pay. Indoctrination is a murky issue, but my opinion of it feels very clear
Life in my own hands
It is an odd, dissociative experience to want to suppress the memories of your former self. A complete and total personality schism occurred within me when I made the leap from Christianity to agnosticism, and it is incredibly distressing to see such a glaring disjointedness between who I am and who I was.
Because I lack a continuous stream of character, I sometimes feel very immature, as I have only been “alive” for roughly three years as the person I am now. I barely recognize the old me, and I am hostile towards her — sympathetic to her circumstances, but appalled by her stifled thinking.
They say admission is the first step. So, I’m Lyndsay, and I’m an agnostic.
Unfortunately, unless conditions drastically change, I will never tell my parents or grandparents about my agnosticism. I feel alienated from them, as well as my three younger siblings. I am a deeply spiritual person and I would like to be known as such, but it is not worth their tears for me to feel more at home when I am at home. I am unfortunately forced to be an actor in an environment where I theoretically should be relaxed.
Still, despite the depressive episodes besetting my religious transformation, I am grateful to have experienced both sides of the spiritual coin. It is an underreported journey not entirely fathomable to someone who has not traipsed similar paths.
Formerly, everything was in God’s hands. In my transition period, I hysterically questioned who/what had grabbed what had slipped from the Almighty’s fingers. Now, I am learning that it is in my own hands.