Regardless of where in the world you grew up, the likelihood that you participated in organized religion in some way at one point in your life is pretty high.
A lot of people find solace within organized religion, while many others find it to be harmful and end up walking away.
I recently asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell me about the moment they realized that organized religion was no longer for them, and I got hundreds of responses.
I just want to say right now how grateful I am to everyone who shared their story with me. I read every single response and wish I could have included them all.
Content warning: sexual assault, child abuse, and anti-LGBTQIA.
1. "My ex-husband cheated and got another woman pregnant. He expected ME to raise the baby because she wanted an abortion and he 'didn't believe in it.' So he had this plan all worked out... except I wouldn't play along.
I went to seek an annulment from the church and the priest I spoke with basically told me to, 'Look inward, to discover the root of his infidelity,' (translation: it's my fault he cheated) and to, 'Turn the other cheek, as Jesus taught us,' (translation: let it continue). I divorced him AND the Church."
2. "I was raised Latter Day Saint and I remember speaking to my Young Women's leader and we were talking about the importance of tithe — the 10% of your paycheck you are supposed to give to the church. I'll never forget when she told me, 'God will forgive you for murder. He won't forgive you for not paying tithe.'"
3. "I helped lead worship at a church, and they would debate how to structure the worship songs to get the biggest emotional reaction out of people. All of the talk of ‘feeling God in the room’ was just an intentionally manufactured experience."
4. "While teaching at a Catholic school, the pastors made me lose every ounce of faith I had. Seeing them behind the scenes and how they treated the people that work for them was horrendous. Yet they put on a show every Sunday. I know that not every pastor is like that, but most of the ones I know are very similar."
5. "In middle school, I went to a Southern Baptist private school. It was drilled into my head that women needed to cover up and be modest, and that my job in life would be to marry a Christian boy and have Christian babies. I was a size DD by the time I was a freshman in high school and boys started to notice and make comments. When I complained to my teachers I was told I needed to wear baggy clothes, which I did.
I started wearing black or neutral tones to fade into the background, participated less in class so people wouldn't look at me. It all came to a head my junior year in high school when I was sexually assaulted at CHURCH in a bathroom by the pastor's son who I also went to school with. The pastor blamed ME. I was done with religion that day and so were my parents. It screwed up my head for YEARS."
6. "My father, a seriously devout Catholic, succumbed to a terminal neurological illness. He spent the last 14 years of his life slowly dying in a nursing home. Once he went into the nursing home, our church abandoned him. He received no visitation from the parish priests, no administering of the sacraments, not even a friendly visit just to say hello. As a child, I would go to the rectory and beg the fathers to visit my dad and give him some spiritual comfort. They never went.
7. "I stopped believing when the Sunday school teacher couldn’t tell me why 'all colors of children were loved by Jesus,' but once they became adults she referred to them with racial slurs. I wasn’t welcome in her class after that."
8. "I left the church after multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. I saw that the people we were fighting there did it because their god told them they had a duty to. I saw things happen that no human should even have to imagine, and people in the US told me it was OK because the Christian god said that they were going to hell anyway. I can't fathom why any sane person would subscribe to any religion that has these kind of beliefs. It sickens me."
9. "Things changed when I took Philosophy 101 in college. It primarily focused on philosophies in religion and the existence of a higher power. That class made me realize it was ok to question religion and allowed me to come to the conclusion that I had actually never believed in God or felt comfortable in church."
10. "My church community was very welcoming towards me and I looked up to the older women who told stories of the 'great work' they did on years of missions trips. One day a woman told me about how she spent almost 30 years doing ex-gay conversion therapy in New York.
I was devastated. Many of my friends are part of the LGBTQ community. I was dumbstruck that my church which had been so open and inviting would be involved in such a horrible practice. I went on to explain that they weren't helping people, but were really abusing and torturing innocent people in the name of their god. I walked out of church that day and never looked back."
"When I was a kid I loved organized religion — the ceremony, the messages of love and forgiveness, the solace that church brought. But when my childhood friend came out as a lesbian my church condemned her. This was a woman who prior to coming out everyone loved. She was intelligent, witty, beautiful, and caring. She knew our small town would turn on her, so she waited until she moved far away for college before coming out and she was right. It became so ugly and they justified their derogatory speech behind Bible verses. Suddenly the association I had between the church and love dissolved; she never deserved their hate. Love is love, so I sought spirituality and solace elsewhere."
11. "A guy befriended me at my last church. He included me in a lot of activities and at that time I needed a friend. He pressured me into getting baptized and right after that he cut me loose. He told me that he had never really wanted to be friends with me, but he wanted to save my soul."
12. "My dad lost his job during the 2001 recession. Our lifestyle changed drastically overnight. We went from going on family vacations every year to my mom setting up play dates or sleepovers because she couldn’t afford to feed me every night. Our church and congregation's response was heartbreaking. We had been members for years but as soon as we couldn’t keep up with the Joneses we were nothing.
13. "When I was 10 years old, my mom finally explained what her stepfather, the beloved Methodist preacher, had done to her from the age of 4 to 15, and why she ran away. The church essentially put on a mock trial to shame her into silence, and her own mother felt it was her duty as a preacher’s wife to look the other way and lie for him as he abused my mom and other girls in the church.
The Bible was used by our family and the church not only to excuse the abuse, but also to justify moving him from church to church as he repeatedly offended, because 'God works through broken vessels' and 'We need to love the sinner, not the sin.' Now that I’m an adult, a victim’s advocate, and a pagan, I’m certain that organized religion allows predators to hide in plain sight and empowers them to continue to offend."
14. "The breaking point came at the election of Donald Trump. The church was discussing abortion, and I said I supported a woman's right to choose. They said the church was pro-life and they would vote for whichever candidate was pro-life regardless of whatever else they endorsed.
15. "Someone once mentioned religious trauma and I immediately remembered the time time in 8th grade where I fully convinced myself that I was possessed by a demon because I just couldn't feel this faith that others seemed to have. I never felt 'moved' by God despite doing all the right things. So obviously the only logical option according to the teachings was that I was possessed by a demon.
For years I truly suspected there was a demon in me and I would pray so hard for it to leave without success. When I realized this was religious trauma, I also started to realize how absolutely messed up organized religion was. No teen should be made to feel like they were possessed by an evil spirit simply because they had questions."
16. "Right after the 2004 tsunami occurred I was visiting my parent's church. When the pastor started crying about all the victims being in hell, it broke me. Just because they were of a different religion, it was assumed they were in hell. I walked away from the Church guilt-free."
17. "When I was 16 I got pregnant. The deacons kicked me out of church, but not my boyfriend. They just told him 'not to do it again.'"
18. "I was born and raised as a Jehovah's Witness. The biggest thing that I could not get over was how they handle child sexual abuse. They actively encourage members to NOT report to police/authorities, and insist on dealing with it 'in house.' But they have a 'two witness rule' which states that unless someone has another person to back up any accusations, technically they don't have to take action. If I were to accuse someone of sexually abusing me, the abuser wouldn't be subject to punishment unless I had another person who could corroborate my story.
19. "A family left one church for another, which resulted in them being shunned by the church members. The man owned a shoe store in the small town and the church members drove him out of business. The family ended up having to move."
20. "As a pastor for 25 years, the self-righteousness, judgmental deeds and words from most religious people, including other ministers, brought on a complete nervous breakdown that required hospitalization for several months. It took several years to heal from that time in my life. I will never be involved in organized religion again."
21. "My grandparents are evangelical Baptists. They were abusive toward their grandchildren, claiming they wanted to instill the fear of God in us and have us earn our salvation. I often had food withheld from me because I didn't follow 'children are to be seen and not heard,' or because I wasn't learning my scriptures 'properly.' At 7 years old they told me that I was born of the Devil and that I could never be loved by anyone because I was born that way.
After realizing this abuse I left the faith and cut my grandparents out of my life completely, and I can say that there has been so much peace for me. It finally brought me the ability to heal from the abuse that I had all my life."
22. "I was married and having problems with my then-husband, who was VERY religious. He told me God was punishing me after we separated, and when I refused to let him have full custody of our child, he went back to OUR church and had our PASTOR show up in court to back him. The pastor willingly supported him even tho he had zero idea of what went on inside our home because I was no longer attending that church."
23. "On Mother’s Day, our minister preached his usual sermon on mothers, but announced it did not apply to divorced women. He said we could not be good mothers if we were not married. There were several of us divorced women in the church that morning, all with our children. Later we asked for a meeting with our minister to discuss what he said. He said divorced women were not welcome in his church. I tried a number of other churches and discovered that I wasn’t welcome there either."
24. "A man in our congregation was unfaithful to his wife. So the pastor made him come up on stage WITH HIS WIFE AND TWO YOUNG CHILDREN to confess. The church sent out an email detailing the affair with their names (husband, wife, and kids) to not just the congregation, but to anyone who had signed up on the mailing list (totaling more than four-thousand people). I was appalled and disgusted that they gave the names of his two very young children and his wife. For those that know, this is not a Biblical approach and is frankly revolting."
25. "I remember being taught that Maria Goretti (one of the youngest people to ever be canonized as a Saint) yelled out to the lord when a neighbor of her's made sexual advances towards her. She wanted to maintain her purity and remain a virgin, and he stabbed her and killed her for it.
26. "When I realized that most people's religion is based on geography. If you are born in a southern community where Baptists rule and your parents are Baptist, good chance you are Baptist. That same person, if they were born in Iran, would likely be a Muslim."
27. "Two years ago as my mother was dying, she told me that her biggest regret was that my children and I were going to hell for not going to church. All I could think about in return was how amazing, meaningful, and fulfilling my life has been since I left organized religion because it allowed me to pursue passions and interests and develop relationships that would have been 'unacceptable' before.
28. "I was young and remember thinking that the Noah's Ark story made no sense to me. I realized the story was God throwing a temper tantrum because the creation he gave free will to didn't make the right decisions. He murders everyone to start over?! That seems like overkill."
Thank you again to everyone who submitted their stories. I'm so grateful you felt comfortable sharing them with me.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search for your local center here.
If you are concerned that a child is experiencing or may be in danger of abuse, you can call or text the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-2253 (4.A.CHILD); service can be provided in over 140 languages.
If you or someone you know has experienced anti-LGBTQ violence or harassment, you can contact the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs hotline at 1-212-714-1141.