I've been an atheist-in-denial for quite some time; though I have yet to figure a way to rid my mind of all the Christian residue. The transition into agnosticism/atheism (I consider myself agnostic with some atheistic leanings) began after a childhood full of what I can best describe as 'religious/spiritual abuse'.
In some ways, I'd rather not call it abuse, as my parents believed genuinely that they were doing right by God. At the same time, I cannot ignore the effects - it is what it is, indeed some brand of emotional abuse, yes, even coming from the best of intentions. It gets tricky because such beliefs are regarded as normal here - most people won't step up against it until it begins to reach Westboro levels.
The Bible in small doses is probably harmless for the most part - perhaps even helpful, as long as one remains a lukewarm Christian, picking and choosing lightly. Of course, that's highly frowned upon and can lead to the *gasp* riding of the the fence! However, the more seriously the Bible is taken as a whole, the more precious it is to a person, the more it is pushed ... the stronger the damage.
In any case, this transition of mine consists of what I can separate into three phases: liberal Christianity, spirituality (where I believed in God, but thought that organized religion was pointless -this led to a slight interest in certain aspects of far eastern religions) and finally agnosticism (where I had concluded that no one can know anything for sure and that there is probably a bit of truth in every view).
More recently, thanks to the experience and emotional support from my partner as well as my own interest in psychology, I have become more and more certain that god must simply be an idea to help fill in the gaps. I've come to learn that our mind craving for something god makes perfect sense; but it doesn't justify dedicating your life to a fear-soothing fantasy. I think religion, or any idea of god, gods, or a greater power for that matter is only for emotional comfort. The unknown tends to be uncomfortable, unsettling, and even frightening to some.
I've learned that in the long run, it's generally better to get out of your comfort zone than to give into fear - most people learn that. To me, it makes just as much sense to apply it to those comforting views of god and the afterlife; in fact, I think it's best to learn about life as objectively as humanly possible. Find something you love of course, and let it overwhelm you - but know also how to step outside of yourself.
In Christianity particularly, it's difficult to step out and then justify going back in, since it tends to be a whole world view - one that the mind becomes emotionally attached to. I know it's possible, but only for the fence-riders, the lukewarm believers.
More on the transition ...(Click here for the related post)
My attempt at a more liberal version of Christianity after a childhood of the conservative brand lasted for a couple of years, or less. I'd decided that most Christians were bad representatives, but that Jesus was perfect and that I should strive to be like him; loving, non-judgmental, understanding ... all the things my mother, as well as various other influential authority figures in my life were not. I wasn't ready to leave what I had known all my life behind, but I knew she and the others were going about it the wrong way.
On this path, I met some more 'understanding' Christians. These types* didn't hate or judge me for 'living in sin with boyfriend', insinuate that 'God would give me cancer' for dishonoring my parents, or cock their eyebrows at me for being inquisitive. I'd always wanted to ask questions and understand, but that was impossible with the Christians I was most familiar with. I figured with these folks (who seemed closer to my idea of who Jesus was), perhaps there was more of an opportunity.
It was, in fact, easier (they treated me like a human being rather than a freak) but their answers didn't always set well with me. The more I thought and the more I asked, the more I realized that when you get down to it, it just doesn't pan out. As their answers began to drive me even further away, I realized that I wasn't 'throwing the baby out with the bath water' as many accused, but rather, there was never really a baby to begin with.
Today, I still have issues but am far more comfortable in my own skin. Living many miles away from family has certainly made it easier cope with everything. I've still got a lot to learn, but I am enjoying the journey.
*Many of the 'understanding' types I speak of I'd met on the Godscare Forum (a group for Christian 'goths' and former 'dabblers' of the occult). I was never involved in the occult apart from a slight interest in the subject and I certainly could never have been described as goth. Still, I'd always felt more at home with them.
Oh, and about the title ...
I was taught, as were most former-fundies I'm sure, that there is a 'God-shaped hole' deep within us all. Silly humans shove all sorts of worldly things in there, hoping for fulfillment, but the Christian God is the only solution. Well, I believed that fully, which is why I let Jesus linger inside of me for so long!
Even when I was more than simply aware of how pointless it all was, I just couldn't seem to let go of that familiar, comforting feeling that went along with the idea of his love. Eventually, I came to the realization that the void exists only when you want it to - life is what you make it! It just didn't make sense to cherry pick the good stuff while ignoring the glaring bad for the sake of comfort. It took me a good while to fully shed these views, but that is when I started to accept myself and really live my life.
Now, my experience is dubbed by many Christians as irrelevant - I must have been doing it wrong - once saved, always saved, they say! While it's rather annoying to be told that my belief was not genuine, I also know it's what they must believe in order to justify the core of their delusion.
In any case, my virginity, which is intertwined in my mind with the idea of being held back (hence the present fetish of mixing certain aspects of religion with sex ^_-), and all thoughts connected were the first and most difficult to let go of, but also the first steps to freedom.