Impact Of a Christian University

By taking religion, philosophy, and critical thinking classes and learning to think and stand up for myself, I realized I wasn’t Christian. I stopped guilting myself and wearing myself out trying to force it, and I was able to unpack and detangle the harmful beliefs that had been keeping me down.

I lived in constant anxiety and fear, and believed at my core that I wasn’t worth anything if I didn’t unquestioningly follow what I had been taught. Instead of pursuing things that interested or helped me, I kept myself locked into a small, boxed in idea of what I thought I had to be.  Being raised in a missionary community, the message was constantly pressed on me that any lapse of faith, any idea of leaving Christianity, would result in burning for eternity. I’d heard this constantly, from every summer camp when I was a kid, to every youth group sermon I heard, and it terrified me.

At 14, I sat in silent terror as the pastor raved about how we could die any day. He spoke for nearly an hour about how we could step out the door this evening and get hit by a falling air conditioner, if we don’t repent now, we will be sent to hell for it. The idea that we need to live every moment as if God could arrive that very second, as if we could die at any moment, was emphasized over and over. I looked around me, and I saw the other kids looking the same as me, tearing up, shaking. But when we left the room, and after I’d finally calmed down enough, everyone around me just talked about how spiritual the experience had been, how they had been so convicted of their guilt, that they really understood things now. I couldn’t understand it. They seemed to have felt the same thing I did, the abject terror, the panic, shortness of breath, but for them, it was just normal, they didn’t see or understand the harm such a narrative can cause.
Years later, I still had that sense of terror whenever I listened to a sermon on that idea of repentance, of sin. Because on top of not truly feeling like I believed in God, I was and am bisexual and transgender, and I had heard from countless sources that this was a sin that could not be overlooked by God. Those sermons did not make me feel like I had hope, that I could repent and that I would be saved. They made me feel singled out and further imprinted the idea that I was destined for hell, destined for suffering, in my mind. The idea settled in my subconscious that I had been made as an example, destined to hell from the beginning to show others what not to do, what not to be.
When I started university, I took a philosophy class and a critical thinking class, and I started really working through the ideas I’d been taught. This, combined with work in therapy and a great deal of healing, led me to realize that the only reason I called myself a Christian was fear and guilt. I didn’t believe in God, but that terrified child inside me was still afraid that if God was real, it meant I was inevitably going to suffer for something I was incapable of changing. Once I realized the only reason I had ever stayed was out of fear, I was able to work through that terror and escape from that pattern of fear and guilt, realizing that I can’t let fear consume my life and keep me from health.

Realizing how unhealthy my relationship with spirituality was and stepping out of Christianity greatly helped my mental health, and I am very grateful for it, although I do realize it is likely not the outcome many people in my life wished to happen. However, while educating myself, learning from the classes I took, and starting to be able to think and analyze things for myself, I was able to recognize that the mental space I was in was not healthy, and that something needed to change. I was able to pull myself out, look at myself and the world unclouded by terror and guilt, and actually set goals for myself, have ambitions for the future, and learn to care for and have compassion for myself, something I had not learned or been taught by the heavy self-sacrifice missionary culture I was raised in.

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