Why I left the faith

NOVEMBER 7 – I made the decision to leave the church and become an atheist sometime in 2012.

I was a Christian for a decade and attended an evangelical church where I had led a small group of fellow believers. As cell group leader, I was very passionate in the faith. I’d even participated in an evangelism course to learn how to attract others to church.

Like the diligent student that I was, I completed every assignment in the course and took non-Christian friends out for badminton or dinner to try to share the gospel with them, besides inviting them to tea parties or other social outings organised by the cell group.

I was not raised a Christian. I don’t know any Sunday school songs. When I was a child, my parents had taught me a vague version of Buddhism mixed with Taoism.

There was a small statue of the Monkey God on the altar at home, glowing in an ominous red light. I used to pray before it for things like exams. I did not have any real belief that this little wooden thing would actually hear me and grant my wishes for straight As, but praying to it became a routine every evening, like reading the newspaper or brushing teeth.

Then my father died from cancer when I was 16. I had converted to Christianity shortly before. Jesus Christ seemed more relatable than an impersonal wooden god with a stick that had failed to prevent my father’s illness and death.

The sense of community in the church was strong and soothing like the thrum of a washing machine. A bunch of church members helped my family move house after my father’s death, even though they barely knew us.

For a while, I revelled in my newfound faith. The pastors told me that my father’s death was in accordance with God’s will and that His ways are higher than ours. It didn’t make much sense to me, but death never does, even till this day.

At that time, I just pushed aside the illogicality of the church’s explanations. The close ties, the sense of belonging, the way everyone seemed so together in their worship gave me a sense of purpose at a time when my world had plunged into chaos.

Throughout the years, however, cracks began to appear in my tightly constructed faith.

After the euphoria over my conversion settled down, I started examining my beliefs. I started asking questions.

Chief among them was how women are perceived in the bible. I struggled to reconcile my feminism with verses like how wives are to submit to their husbands just as they do to God (Ephesians 5:22), the head of a wife is her husband (1 Corinthians 11:3), and a wife must be chaste, respectful and possess a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3: 2-4).

I was most certainly not “quiet”; I was outspoken and very opinionated. I’d begun writing letters to the editor about various issues since I was a teenager.

Then there’s also the Old Testament story of Lot offering his daughters up to be gang-raped when men outside his house demanded sex with his two male visitors.

I tried to rationalise it away. Perhaps what the bible meant by the husband being the “head” of his wife was that men are just the “source” of women, in that God created Eve from Adam’s rib.

I also tried to marry the evolution theory with the bible. God creating the world in seven days was a myth. I believed it more likely that God was the Creator that allowed the natural process to go on its own, a position that Pope Francis recently took when he said evolution was not opposed to the notion of Creation as “evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”

The church’s obsession with sex, or the control of sexual impulses, disturbed me too. More often than not, the focus on purity and virginity was targeted at women. I used to be torn with guilt at every risqué thought, wondering if God up there was watching, listening, waiting to strike.

The abstinence-only sex education propounded by religious groups instead of safe sex seemed like a harmful public health policy.

In the end, the church could not give me satisfactory answers.

So I decided to leave. After I left the church and stopped praying, I found that my life went on exactly the same. If I wanted to get something done, I’d just work at it as I used to do, only without prayer. It got me the same results.

God became unnecessary.

I don’t have to try to fit in the divine when science can explain the way the world works. It’s not so much that science is opposed to faith; it’s more like science renders God an extraneous variable. Whatever mysteries that remain can be solved in due time as science is constantly evolving and questioning, unlike dogmatic religion that has a fixed view of the world.

Most of all, I don’t have to bother reconciling my idea of women’s rights and the sexist notions in Christianity and other major religions. If other women are happy being submissive to their husbands because the bible tells them to do so, that’s up to them. But at least now, I can choose not to and I'm free to seek a more egalitarian relationship outside the misogynistic boundaries of religion.

I found freedom in atheism, the freedom to think.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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