I had pondered some sort of epic post last week in a similar fashion... basically talking about my transition to what I do and don't believe today in comparison to how I was raised. I'm glad you started this topic and I am glad I finally took the time to read it this morning.
To add my two cents, and maybe even move the discussion in a tangent or at least a little further along...
My biggest struggle with my own theological views today stem from my inability to reconcile a few things that have happened in my life. Much like some in the "thank God I didn't die in that car crash" thread tended to do, I cannot allow myself to simply write these things off as either coincidence, or some sort of supernatural event. I have to over analyze and scrutinize these situations in this metaphorical never-ending conflict. I never truly feel like I have achieved any sort of resolution. I don't know if it is the scarring of the way I was raised, or my own inability to let go of some sort of preconceived notion or desire for knowledge that I have on a personal level.
I've posted about a few of the events here in the past, and I too was admittedly a different person myself when the events happened and even when I posted on the Huddle about them.
As a quick overview of myself:
-Parents split when I was 7.
-Raised by mom 95% of the time, and made to go to church on Sundays (Free Will Baptist).
-Academically gifted since the second grade. Bussed to another school once a week for higher level classes up until middle school where they did it in-house.
-Struggled to care early on in high school because I was usually a Freshman in a class full of Seniors, and the coursework bored me to tears. Didn't care about much at all that the public school system had to offer. Skirted my way through the 4 years by attending just enough days and doing enough work to graduate.
-Was active in church as a teen, although not super gung-ho rah rah Jesus! Did captain a Bible Bowl team. Started losing my interest in religion in my later teens and stopped going to church. Didn't really believe too much in the church itself, saw it more as a political entity with its share of inner turmoil and a facade of spirituality. Got tired of the preacher using the pulpit to preach against things he saw as evil rather than things he saw as good. Too much negativity, and honestly I didn't really care.
-Signed up for Community College after high school with no real direction or no real desire to do much of anything. Got a year and a half into a graphic design/art degree and decided I was bored with it. Switched to computer programming just to have a degree in something I thought would matter or would pay the bills.
-Pretty much Republican when I started voting... IIRC first presidential election I could vote in was 2000 (I was 19 almost 20) and I voted for Dubya. Grew up with the indoctrination of the religious right, although I will admit it was a little more up for debate with my mom than most people raised in the south have. But yeah, it pretty much made me vote straight ticket Republican.
-9/11 happened, and I was glued to the TV for days. I wanted us to get whoever did it and basically burn the world down for 'merica.
-War on terror happened, and I became disgusted with blind patriotism and how it guided uninformed voters. I still question 9/11's official story to this day because of the fallout it had on the world. I believe this is one of the primary catalysts (aside from realizing how screwed up their platform is) that began turning me against the Republican party. I voted for Kerry in 2004. Obama in 2008. Johnson in 2012. Go ahead and call me a truther or make a reference to venom or something, idgaf.
So basically, the events I mentioned earlier that still are hard for me to reconcile, and are probably the major hangup in me being an outright nonbeliever in anything other than myself are as follows.
Somewhere after 9/11 I was beating myself up pretty bad inside because (and I know this is terribly cheesy) I was in my first real, meaningful, relationship with a girl. I was in college, with no direction, and stuck between the way I wanted to see the world and the way that I had been conditioned all my life to see it. I had all these inner turmoils and battles about the world outside myself and, combined with those that directly related to myself, I felt lost and under water.
I never prayed about anything in my life really, and I thought it was silly even though I was conditioned to believe it was a totally normal thing. One night, I was having trouble sleeping because of all the theological and existential thoughts swimming around in my head and decided that I needed to clear my mind somehow and hit a reset button. I prayed. A few moments later, after saying a silent prayer to myself as I lay there in the bed beside my sleeping girlfriend (now my wife,) I heard a very specific, audible to me, voice. It was a voice I had never heard before and have not heard since, but it was a very distinct voice, and a very distinct and specific phrase. It was a book in the bible and a number (I presumed it was a verse number.) It wasn't from any thing of note that I had studied or remembered reading in the Bible. It was a small, seemingly to me, insignificant book. It just seemed very very random.
Shocked, and actually pretty terrified, I sat up in the bed. I looked around the room and nobody was there. I got up and looked out the window. There wasn't a TV on in the house. Nothing could have made the voice I heard that was in my immediate vicinity. The immediate impact of this was very shocking, but I had to tell myself to calm down. I lay back down and surprisingly felt more at peace than I did before praying. I told myself that it was a coincidence and that I had heard the voice on the verge of falling asleep, and that it was something in my subconscious acting out. I told myself that if it was important or somehow divinely inspired that I would remember it and look it up in the morning.
I looked it up the following morning and was floored that it was a very specific, direct response to a question I asked when I said that prayer.
That said, and this is the crazy part, it didn't really change my actions the way it should have. I kept doing the things I was doing that were causing me inner turmoil. I shared the story and still do because it is absolutely crazy to me. The part is that I can't, to this day, reconcile what happened that night. Part of me wants to believe in some sort of universal consciousness that I somehow tapped into. Part of me wants to write it off as my own subconsciousness playing tricks on me and cherry picking some locked away answer I heard or read during my years in the church. Part of me thinks (as do most people I share the story with) that I'm a little crazy for hearing a voice (and admitting to it.) The bottom line, for me at least, is that I don't know that I can ever reconcile this event. This one event is probably why I can never give up on the "I don't know" line I so delicately walk when it comes to religion, human purpose (if we have any,) and the abandonment of any spiritualism whatsoever. I did embark on a small, brief, spiritual illumination quest after this event in which I delved into religious history, explored alternative religions and spiritualisms, etc. I read various apocryphal works, alternative theories, other canons, etc. But, it wasn't as life changing as one might think.
The second event that I reference was similar but I usually leave it of brief note...
Probably around a year or so after the voice event. I'd guess circa 2003 or 2004. I was going through some of the same inner turmoils (as I reflect now, I realize that I probably internalize way too much.) I wasn't religious at all at the time, aside from reflecting on the voice event and the subsequent research it led me to into religion (probably more worthy of a mention than I am giving it.) But yeah, I decided I was going to pray again one night to clear my head.
Basically, I asked for another event like the voice. Some sign that I wasn't alone and that someone or something out there that I could never understand was there for and with me. It wasn't even a prayer to specific god or religion, it was just a conscious request from some sort of incorporeal being or entity to pat me on the back and tell me things were going to be okay.
I went to sleep that night without any sort of event, but as I left the apartment complex's parking lot that morning and turned onto the main road headed to work, I got right behind a little red car with a Bible verse license plate. I couldn't help but smile at the coincidence, and I looked up the verse when I got to work. Basically, it was another specific answer to the prayer I had made the night before.
I still, to this day, don't pray. I'm not religious at all, other than sometimes pondering my own existence in this reality that we really don't understand. I've felt the need to clear my head from time to time since and usually just close my eyes and meditate or something or whatever you call it when you try to clear your mind. I can't reconcile those two events as just coincidence, but I'm not ready to let them be the definitive "God is real!" moments in my life either. I don't want to use these events to make me feel special or chosen or somehow any different from anyone else. But, they are probably the biggest personal theological stumbling blocks I have encountered in my 34 years.
They aren't the only events that have shaped my current beliefs. In fact, they are probably some of the least influential when you compare them to what I actually believe today. But they were pretty huge events for me on a personal level, and something that I don't know that I can ever come to terms with.
I have experienced something similar in my life. I have had two experiences that have left me with questions I may never be able to answer. One was an experience of such immense evil I don't know how to even express it. I have felt nothing remotely close to that since. The other, in a time in my life of immeasurable pain, I felt a hand on my shoulder with a feeling of warmth and love I have never felt again. I know 100% that I was absolutely alone. These have left me with only two certainties. One, there is something greater than myself that I can't understand. And two, faith is a very personal thing.
I don't expect anyone else to understand or even believe what I've said. But at the same time, I don't need you to. These two experiences profoundly impacted me and have since. I don't believe in religion but I do believe there is more. What exactly that is, I don't know, and I'm ok with that.