Why I Abandoned Christianity
My mornings started earlier than most who were my age when I was young. During school days in high school, I woke up at 4 am to read the Bible and dissect Christian literature.
I meditated on Bible verses and passages for hours in those early still mornings and rarely told anyone that I was praying on their behalf to God. I cherished those quiet moments in communion with Him.
NOTE: This is an excerpt from my book, Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism & the Global Problems of the 21st Century. In it, I try to write about our global problems from both the Christian and secular lens. In so doing, I attempt to bridge ideological opponents and reduce polarization. We all know we need more of that in this day and age.
Let me get into why I chose to write about this topic and why you can also begin to doubt the certainty in which you live.
In school, I considered it a personal responsibility to testify to others about my walk with God not only with my words but in how I treated others. It was not merely that I chose not to swear, or drink alcohol, or participate in what I thought to be ungodly behavior, like cheating on tests and gossiping about others.
My commitment was less abstaining from behavior and more about delighting in different behavior, namely communion with God. I was often found with a book and was happily ostracized because of my commitment to Jesus. I never thought I was unique in this.
Nor did I feel particularly burdened. As I said, I may have abstained from the mundane pleasures of my peers, but I was a part of something that I cherished so much more: my faith.
My commitment was also seen in that I attended every conference, bible group, and youth meeting made available to me. I played on every worship group, and at the age of 14, when I was baptized, at times even led my congregation in prayer, as was the custom for those who became members of the church.
I urged members of our congregation to recommit themselves and live radically as the early church did. I would rarely receive praise apart from a few elders and my pastor. More often than not, many shrugged and said that my zealousness was because of my young age. It was just a stage, they thought.
I was impressed by my pastors, who could recite answers to what I thought were the most profound questions of life on evil, suffering, chastity, and all the other pressing dilemmas 14-year-olds have. I wanted to be like them in both their clarity and certainty.
I knew that the only thing separating me from them was the discipline to spend an inordinate amount of time reading in quiet study probing my deepest questions.
And so I woke in the morning to my dark room until I became more sure and outspoken about my views concerning my unanswered questions.
I remember regularly meeting with one of the elders from our church, a youth pastor, every Monday and discussing apologetics, the defense of the Christian faith. I was familiar with the contemporary apologists and was, once again, fascinated with the certainty they spoke with. I wanted to find justification for whatever belief I had to defend what I delighted in. I had problems with my faith, of course, but they were never close to being detrimental to it.
In the summers, when we were not busy with school, we would host what we called “English Camps,” where we would teach kids English through Bible lessons that would, we hoped, make them curious about biblical issues. I remember barely spending any time at home because of my preoccupation with volunteering and witnessing.
Missionaries would come from Texas and Virginia. We would translate their bible lessons, spend weeks with them, caring for the kids, organizing games in the evenings, and translating Bible lessons through the days. At times I was so exhausted that all I could do for lunch is sleep for a quick hour because the activities were endless. But we loved every second of it.
Every day was an opportunity to witness God’s exciting Gospel to my peers. I debated my classmates and teachers on numerous occasions in front of the class about God’s existence. We hosted events where members of these high schools would discuss Christianity by the dozens. Sometimes I would host lectures on sex addiction, or the inerrancy of Scripture, sparking what I recall being voracious debate.
I remember one of them who was particularly sincere in his conversations with me concerning God, Mark. He tragically passed away six years later in a skiing accident around the time I started writing this book. I devoted my book to Mark.
Someone contacted me, perhaps a pastor, he did not introduce himself, on whether Mark ever had the opportunity to hear the Gospel from me. I revealed to the unidentified man what was later revealed to me that Mark did not accept the Gospel because he was not persuaded by my arguments or anyone else’s. “He had a strong intellect,” I told the man. “Who knows what choices he would have made later in life.”
I tried to comfort him because I imagined that he had a eulogy to write that would be heard by Mark’s family. I dedicated this book to Mark because I truly believe, along with Charles Darwin, that the belief that Mark went to Hell for not accepting the Gospel is a “damnable doctrine,” one that can never put to ease the minds of those who think.
In my youth, we went from camp to camp, festival to festival, discussing God, breathing God, and living the Gospel. I was not afraid to be ostracized or made fun of. I understood that it was my call as a Christian. Finally, when I was 16, I looked at opportunities to study abroad, perhaps where I was raised in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. I do not remember what exactly made me want to study overseas. But I did, and it was a beautiful choice.
Whilst in Canada
I arrived in Kelowna on the 27th of August in 2013, on a hot steamy day. I missed my congregation back home in Slovakia from day 1 upon my arrival to Canada. Little did I realize that this was the beginning of drastic, unencumbered change. I was beginning to slip from God’s tender grasp.
I met many fantastic people in my school, Heritage Christian School, but most of all, I was surprised by how the Christian community there lacked the radicalism and commitment to the Word of God that I saw in many Slovakian Christians. I was torn. I was becoming lonely in the midst of a materialistic society. The community in my school was not as friendly as I hoped for.
I was an outsider, and everyone was too socially inept to notice. They were young, in the end. But eventually, they became close friends. I likened some of us to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield, members of the Inklings, a group of literary friends who also shared their faith in God in common. We discussed theological issues for hours and hours and had many wonderful conversations. But my time here came to an end after a short year.
I was accepted to the University of Portsmouth.
Whilst In England
I moved to Portsmouth on the South Coast of England to live with three of my closest friends from Slovakia in September 2014. I was studying Forensic Psychology, attending lectures with 400 people at a time. I was uninterested, and the large classrooms made it difficult to pay attention. I started thinking that I should be studying theology but was scared to commit to it.
In the end, I thought I could do more good if I entrenched myself in the secular world, and published works from within the community rather than outside of it. After a short semester, I dropped out of Portsmouth and worked. I was broke. At the time, I worked at a fish and chips restaurant, a bar, and as a cleaner. I cleaned in a grocery store, bar, and private school, always changing depending on the month and amount of work.
I would often have to clean dreadful filth from the toilets in the bars. But at the time I did not mind it since I did not know a different life. I was young, and I needed to pay rent. While I stayed in Portsmouth from September to April, I did not have one day off. Every day I went to work. Whether I was sick, whether it was Christmas, whether it was New Years, I went to work. God was my comfort.
On one of those days, I was reading a biography on C.S. Lewis. All my roommates left Portsmouth, going back home to be with their families or on vacation. I was staying in Portsmouth alone for two weeks or so. I read about the Trout Inn in Oxford in this biography, where Lewis, Tolkien, and others would drink beer and discuss their work.
The name of the pub was familiar to me.
A friend of mine worked there the previous summer. I wondered, maybe if I give them a call, ask if he could give me a reference, that I could get a job there. Sure enough, the person that picked up the phone was a manager and said, “You have a similar last name to mine.” And she started talking in Slovakian. I could not believe it. I hopped on the earliest bus that took 6 hours or so to Oxford for an interview.
I came in for the interview and landed the job. I went back to Portsmouth, packed my bags, traveled back, and moved to the Trout. Some of us lived in the pub, making it a majestic experience.
Whilst in Oxford
My first month or so in Oxford was interesting, to say the least. For a timid Christian young boy to move into a community of some 40 young adults working in a restaurant from all over the world was both threatening and exhilarating.
For one, my room was covered with large posters of naked women because my roommate fancied it at the time. And that can be shocking to walk into for anyone especially my Christian sheltered eyes.
In those early months, I was an outsider. But I didn’t mind it. I worked. Then I read. On days off, I went to the city center in Oxford to explore. One of the earliest days, I stumbled on a local public library and took out a biography on Napoleon and managed to finish reading Tolkien’s Return of the King. But my primary source of comfort was John Piper.
I read the Romantic Rationalist, which was on C.S. Lewis, relishing on his ability to use words in a way that showed the beauty of Christ to the world. I cherished these books dearly, sitting in parks in the beautiful Wolvercote. I would take long walks and jogs alongside the Thames River, in Port Meadow, watching the sunset sing in red colors. And God was with me, or so I thought.
It was not once that I walked by the Radcliffe Square to City Church for tea, or the other side of Oxford, passing Magdalen College and the infamous Magdalen Bridge. I sat untouched by the world’s troubles sitting in St. Mary’s Church just past the city center. I felt joy as I was discovering new places in Oxford. I would sit in the oldest libraries, listen to choirs sing in extravagant churches, and think, how lucky am I to be here.
But throughout this time, I also felt increasingly uneasy about my faith. I felt as if I was a mere child experiencing light for the first time, reborn into a world of dark hostility. My coworkers were vicious to one another on a level that I had never experienced before. There was so much hate. I was being awoken to a reality that many live in and experience every day. I thought of myself as the young protagonist in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, struggling with my faith, my sexuality, and the lies of my upbringing. I felt a darkness disguised in the beauty of the richness of the stars. The beauty was to be enjoyed but never entirely because of the anxiety of my youth.
Slowly, I started feeling that God became distant. I would pray, and there would be no answer. I thought maybe my faith was gone; I was scared of what my life would come to. I was tempted by what I thought of as worldly pleasures.
I loved the taste of Guinness, cigarettes, and all that is associated with the rebellious youth. It was the clubs, the beer, the food, and the traveling that I was becoming increasingly in love with. I worked hard and learned to enjoy the fruits of my labor in new ways. We celebrated ourselves, our accomplishments — or things that seemed like accomplishments.
I started being happy without God. I could not find happiness so much in myself because I did not like myself. I wanted to find my happiness in something that I found outside of myself, in living and admiring the wonderful city of Oxford, in the conversations with close friends, and in the reading of great literature.
I was buying any piece of literature I could on how to create happiness. How do I construct it for myself? I met Walter Hooper, the late secretary to C.S. Lewis, who introduced me to Eric Metaxas, one of my Christian heroes. Hooper was envious of my living spaces at the Trout. “What a romantic place to live at?” he said enthusiastically when I had the wonderful experience of talking with him briefly at the Socrates in the City event in Oxford, October 2015.
There were many wonderful moments in Oxford that seem like a distant dream now, a reality that I could only hope for. And my experience there changed me. This was only the beginning of my personal search for joy.
My time in Oxford was a dream, and I have been back many times since. But at the time, I saw that I had no future there. I wasn’t enrolled in school and worked at a job that wasn’t bringing me fulfillment. I was wasting my efforts. I did not know where to go. It could not be Slovakia, I thought. So, I put my fingers on a place that I missed the most, the wonderful valleys of the Okanagan. But first, I went back home to Slovakia for a month or so.
My brief visit to Slovakia was a time that reflected how little I understood why I abandoned my faith in the first place. I talked to everyone I could about my new ambivalence to faith; I wanted to know whether my thoughts were substantiated. I have always loved conversation, and the people in my home country graciously provided that to me.
After my month of conversing over coffee, tea, and beer in Slovakia came to an end, I went home to those valleys that I so missed.
Back in Canada
I came back an unbeliever. On my way to Vancouver, in May 2016, I revisited Christianity through the work of the Christian writer, Charles Colson, in The Good Life: Seeking Purpose, Meaning, and Truth in Your Life.
This was a very turbulent time for me. I was without a job, dropped out of university, and did not have a clue of what to study. By the end of the summer, I was already identifying as a Christian again.
In August 2016, I reread Mere Christianity, by Lewis as I took a trip to visit some friends in the colorful green coastal city of St. John in New Brunswick, Canada.
I remember reading Lewis alone among the benches in the church, still pondering whether God was the answer to all my lifelong questions. I had a few conversations there with some pastors about religion and my persuasion because my close friend worked for the church, teaching English to immigrants coming into Canada, among other things.
Interestingly enough, I also remember reading Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus at this time, on the beaches of New Brunswick, with the breeze and sun on my face. Was I Sisyphus? I didn’t want to be condemned to a life of misery where simple tasks become dreadful burdens. Was this meaningful?
When I came back from the East Coast, I was urged to dive deeper into Lewis and read Surprised by Joy, his lyrical autobiography about how he became a Christian, quite literally, how he was surprised by joy.
I wanted to see whether there was any joy in it for me. For Lewis, Christianity was not a strictly intellectual adventure. Instead, it was a journey to a fulfilling relationship with the Creator himself. Lewis, of course, differentiated between temporary happiness and lasting joy, which he thought Christianity was best able to guarantee.
I wanted more, however. I stopped reading apologetics altogether for some time. Instead, I turned to the works of Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and Hemingway, among others. I wanted to expand my intellectual horizon and read books I was not naturally inclined to read. Or, in the words Lewis, I wanted to become “a thousand men” by reading widely and seeing what they saw in the world (An Experiment in Criticism).
The main book that I credit to opening my eyes to the intellectual depth of atheists was The Age of Atheists by Peter Watson that I started reading in November 2016. I worked in a coffee shop at the time and read it frequently when customers failed to enter through our doors. I was surprised by how much there was to secular thought and how far in history its grasp was.
To Be, or Not To Be a Christian?
In the end, I don’t recall ever managing to make a final decision whether I wanted to be a Christian or not. Time made me more sure of my agnosticism toward faith in the Christian God. I have now been studying philosophy and political science for four years.
These years have both been challenging and rewarding. They entrenched me in my belief that we should speak slowly and carefully about these issues. Things are often much more complicated than they seem at the outset. Reading more so that you know less and are less vitriolic and adamant about your views is one way to summarize my time at university.
Throughout my life, I have been having long conversations about religion. I discussed these things with friends, family, peers, and mentors for as long as I can remember. In all my discussions, I’ve realized that it’s difficult to persuade.
In the end, we often agree with conclusions because of reasons we aren’t fully aware of. We don’t remember why we think the way we do. And when we are challenged, we feel as if our identity is threatened.
That is why I think we need to be charitable. Many of us do not know. The question for me, is not whether Christianity is true for you. You may know the arguments for your belief, or you may not. The question is whether Christianity has any valid place in the 21st century. Christianity will not go away until it is irrelevant.
If Christians want to be challenged about their beliefs, they should aim to leave their communities and see if their views are not merely the result of social cohesion. I believe they will be challenged and aim for a more nuanced understanding of this world if they do so.
We are not always right.
And our social predicaments stifle our ability to see clearly.
Let’s continuously remind ourselves of the profound truth behind this limitation.
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