This post was inspired by a friend of mine on youtube who was an atheist for about a year and has recently reverted to theism. She was a Pentecostal like myself and she recently posted some new videos where she tries to explain her journey. I will not identify her here but she reminded me of my initial journey from theism to atheism.
I have come to believe that the journey from theist to atheist becomes harder depending on your level of commitment to your theistic beliefs and practices. The deeper the indoctrination the harder it is to break free of it. I can personally attest to the emotional and mental anguish one feels when they are trying to break free from the talons of religion. My journey from theist to atheist was a long and difficult travail.
I can say that I genuinely had a fear of God in my heart, and I believed fully in what the consequences would be for abandoning "the way." As a fully committed evangelist who preached,cast out demons,and healed the sick, or so I believed the prospect of living without God was very terrifying and very real to me. It literally took me several years to get over my fear of the Lord and all the myths that accompanied my believing in him. The hardest step is the first step and that is the step of overcoming that initial fear. Once you have done that you are then ready to embark on your journey for better or for worse.
Once you make the conscious decision to break free from your fears then the next step is to weigh the evidence. The first thing I did when I left the church was to seek out evidence to explain away the many so called spiritual experiences I personally had in the church. I read books on psychiatry,psychology,hypnosis,auto-suggestion etc. I used to have frightening nightmares that continued even after I left the church that were very real to me. When I was a theist I attributed those to demonic attacks for battling against Satan and his minions on behalf of God. So logically I started studying sleep disorders that I can compare those experiences to. I still have those frightening nightmares today from time to time but now I know that it is nothing more than hallucinatory sleep paralysis, a common sleep disorder.
Eventually, I was able to explain away all of my so called spiritual experiences from speaking in tongues (glossolalia),apparent healing,exorcisms, etc. What I am trying to say is that as in all things knowledge is power. The more you know the more you grow. The churches greatest tool is fear, it is a sin to question God, it is a sin to doubt his word, it is a sin to turn away from the path of righteousness that the good Lord has put you on. Religion is about abasement and degradation and those things are not easy to overcome.
It is like an abused woman who is constantly being told by her abuser what a worthless shit she is all the time, a slut, and a useless whore. An occasional your fat and ugly or you can't live without me etc. If she hears it enough times she begins to believe it. Religious folks endure a similar abuse but they don't even realize it. They are told all the time how they should be grateful that God sacrificed his son for them, that they are nothing without him, that they are as the dust of the Earth. Religious beliefs, especially when they are taken to the extreme are in fact a form of mental and emotional abuse.
The key to breaking this cycle is through overcoming your fears and educating yourself. Keep in mind that as with other addictions such as drugs and alcohol you may need some help, but in the end this is your journey and you make the final verdict on which way you want to go. When you first leave the church keep in mind that there are many resources online where you can find help weaning yourself away from the indoctrination and falling back into it. Like a drug addict in the beginning it is likely that you may have a couple of relapses but you must stay the course.
The best way for me to describe this is like watching a very spectacular magic trick done right before your eyes by a very skilled magician. At first when you see it you may be left in awe, shocked even. But once you learn how the trick is done it loses its veneer, the jig is up. When you go back to church after having educated yourself thoroughly and you understand how all of that charismatic mess works it loses its power over you.
I hope that any recent atheist that has experienced or is experiencing any of the above on this post will be helped by this information. And know that if you need help finding where to turn for help I would be more than glad to point you in the right direction.