Readers respond to the census finding that England and Wales are now minority Christian countries
Diana, 44, a retail worker from Yorkshire, was raised in a Christian fundamentalist home and always struggled with her faith; concepts such as predestination and creationism “never made sense” to her.
“Losing my faith was a process of gradual disengagement,” she says. “At some point, I didn’t think that I, as a woman, was made to submit to a man. But the final straw was watching my father die of cancer and trying to do so without pain relief as it was ‘God’s will’, while waiting to be healed. I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t believe in a supernatural being, and couldn’t pretend any more.”
Today, Diana is an atheist, like many other people who got in touch with the Guardian to share why they no longer identified as Christians, after the census found that England and Wales were now minority Christian countries.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/nov/2022-11-29-06:01:12/embed.html
Various people cited similar experiences. Some were able to point to specific events in their lives that suddenly made clear their values were no longer congruent with Christian teachings, while others distanced themselves more gradually and gently from their faith.
‘The teachings began feeling like a fairytale’
For James, a programme manager from Birmingham, it was more of a creeping realisation as he got older that certain aspects of Christian dogma were incompatible with critical thinking.
“I was raised as a Christian: church every Sunday, C of E [Church of England] school, taught to say grace before dinner.
“At some point in my late teens the stuff that provided comfort, such as the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient god, suddenly started to feel more like a fairytale you tell kids to help them sleep, and posed questions. And then I thought: ‘If God knows exactly what I’m going to do, and lets it happen, then I no longer have a free will’,” the 44-year-old says.
Although James describes himself as an atheist now and sees religion as “the old approach to controlling the masses and providing public health advice”, he enrolled his two daughters in a C of E primary school.
“I can see the value of spirituality and religion, and I wanted to give my children the opportunity to figure things out for themselves.”
The result? “When my seven-year-old daughter was told at school that God created everything, she asked her teacher: ‘Well, who created God?’ My children have both decided these teachings don’t stack up.”
‘The church hasn’t moved with the times’
Pauline, 54, who is retired and lives in Bristol, says certain Christian teachings became irreconcilable with her values over time.
“I probably stopped calling myself a Christian in my 30s. I was brought up as a strict Roman Catholic with Irish parents. We always went to church on Sunday, and for most of my childhood it was a ritual that was nice and comforting,” she says.
But as she got older she began to have doubts. “I felt that if God made everyone in his image, then why were people who were gay so hated by the church? It felt as if they were saying: ‘Jesus loves everybody but only if they’re like us’. The church was peddling a form of hate, and it didn’t sit right with me.
“All of the hell and damnation stuff as well, plus the amount of money the Catholic church has, it led me to be totally disillusioned by the whole thing.”
Although there are times she misses her Christian faith, Pauline says, she feels certain she will not return to it. “I’ve decided to have a direct cremation when I die, no religious service at all. The church simply hasn’t moved with the times, people don’t recognise their own views in it any more.”
‘I feel a lot more at peace’
During the Covid lockdowns, Stephen Hunsaker, 28, had time to step back and found he felt “so much better” when no longer practising his religion. Raised in the Church of Latter Day Saints in the US, the London-based researcher says he realised it was no longer something he identified with.
“I had been very devout my entire life, but when lockdown happened and I just stepped back, that made me realise there was so much that I no longer identified with. I felt like I had to justify it at every turn and it was bringing me an immense amount of guilt and hurt,” Hunsaker says, explaining that he also felt alienated by some Christians’ treatment of minorities and LGBTQ+ people. “Religion is meant to help you be a better person, but I felt like it was holding me back.”
Hunsaker says leaving his faith was the hardest decision he ever made. “I was very fearful that my relationship with my family and friends would be affected – my world was so wrapped up in it. [But] it went better than I thought.
“Guilt is an incredibly powerful emotion,” he says. “But as I lived without religion and found other people in solidarity it allowed for me to figure out who I am. I feel a lot more at peace.”