A lot of believers, at least those with whom I've interacted, seem to feel that if I would just give their faith a try, I'd be sure to "come around" to their way of believing (namely, Christianity) and be happier, at peace, etc. I want to try to dispel some of that as honestly and compassionately as I know how; and I'm hopefull that those of you who run into the same situation may find something of use in it as well.
First--I'll make this as clear as I know how--I have given it a try. I was actually raised Baptist. I was introduced to the idea of God when I was four, shortly after my father died. I'd never heard before of a man who could make everything, even whales (odd what parts of the conversation I can remember...). As a child I went to Sunday School along with my (now) stepsister, and as I got older I went to VBS and Junior Church and later regular church. I went to "Jet Cadets" with my Pentecostal friends. I went to one church that had a choir and grape juice, and remember the warm fuzzy feeling when the minister/priest/whatever he was called (I was too young to get it straight) asked the whole congregation to pray for my cousin who had been hit by a car. I remember how special and powerful it would feel to think that when I bowed my head and folded my hands, the most powerful being in the world could hear my thoughts and was listening and really cared. Of course, at this time in my young upbringing, we'd mostly get the warm fuzzy parts: the Baby Jesus version more than the Crucified Jesus version. I do remember it being drilled into us time and time again that if we just asked Lord Jesus into our hearts we'd be all set to go to Heaven no matter what we did in our lifetime. No matter what. Even as a child I knew a good insurance policy when I saw one, and that was just about as good as it got. So I not only asked Jesus into my heart (though I never knew exactly why he wanted in a space as small as my fist), I did it on a weekly basis.
As I got older, fear started to take over.
I have, and always have had, a very active imagination. Today as an adult I'm pretty good with separating fact from fantasy but it was a long time getting here. At the age of twelve, when the 80's and the satanism scare sweeping the country, I became phobic of devils, demons, and angry ghosts. It seemed that everything I liked or had an interest in was being called "evil" or "satanic" or a "cult symbol" by someone or another on TV. It led my young imagination to think that some demon or devil could just sweep into my room any time and do me or my family harm. That I read The Amityville Horror and believed it as fact (not yet discerning just how loosely something can be "based on" a true story) made me more of a wreck. I didn't sleep well at night. I kept imagining I'd hear the marching band in the living room. I kept imagining that flies in the window were a sign of evil. I had a Poison poster from a magazine that I refused to put on my wall, because on the other side was Iron Maiden, and someone on TV said they were satanic. That was also my period of trichotillomania; I would compulsively pull my eyelashes. I think it started as the idea of making a wish on a stray eyelash and grew into a strange obsessive-compulsive behavior. I prayed a lot. I even cried a lot while praying. I don't know how much of this my own parents even know. I thought, what good does faith do? That priest in the book was just as faithful as they get, and look what happened to him! And so, mingled with faith, there was a lot of prayer and a very unhealthy amount of fear.
But when I'd heard from someone who heard from someone that the color purple and unicorns were both "cult signs", that's when I had a big "Wait a minute!" moment. I liked unicorns (what tween girl doesn't?) and I liked purple, but I knew I had zero interest in Satan or "cult stuff". That's when my twelve-year-old mind reached the conclusion that a symbol only is a symbol of what each person looking at it wants it to be a symbol of. To the pastor on TV, unicorns were a symbol of "cult stuff"; but to me, they were a symbol of beauty and magic and the amazing things we can imagine.
When I was faithful, I was terrified; when reason stepped in, I wasn't afraid anymore.
In my adolescence, I was still seeking, of course. My willingness to "know the enemy" led me to read up a lot on ideas of witchcraft and demonology (and Mom finding that book in my room wasn't awkward at all...) I still wasn't sure what was real and what was myth at first, and for a few years I'd decided that none of it was real. I didn't have the security or courage yet to continue to believe it was all myth, and spent young adulthood still seeking and trying different beliefs on to see what fit. I went to some Catholic masses with a friend during Advent (which is an especially feel-good, "Baby Jesus" time of year) and liked the feeling of community, liked the feeling of ritual, but still didn't agree with many of the beliefs such as Original Sin or Transubstantiation. The love your fellow man part, though, that was grand. So I held onto that.
It became evident to me through the years that no matter what the belief, the love your fellow man part was the best part, and that I felt that to be true and right no matter what face or name was given to it. Now, in my mid 30s, I've come to understand that the love your fellow man part is there even without any face or name given to it. God, or Goddess, or Karma, or Higher Power, or whatever, wasn't what made me love myself and my fellow man: I am. And I have that without fear of demons or devils or hexes or ghosts or any of it. Right and wrong are a product not of a higher cosmic being, but of our own free will as humans.
I would love for it to be true, I really would, for there to be an all-powerful and all-loving and all-knowing god, who wants us all to live in peace and love and be the best people we can be. I really would. But what I've seen, what I've known, and what I've experienced, lead me to the conclusion that it's all up to us here on Earth to take care of that; and so I try to do that the best I know how.
If you believe in good things that stem from loving your fellow man, I have no judgment toward what face or name you give to it. It's only when that belief is used to suggest that some people are better or more worthy than others that I begin to have a problem. Or, if that belief is causing undue fear and worry like it was for me when I was young. I don't like to see another person suffer because they believe the devil's going to pop out and eat them for lunch. I've suffered for years with that fear and I don't like seeing anyone, especially someone I know and care about, suffering with the same fear. But I recognize that if you do, you have to arrive on the other side of that in your own way and in your own time. Just know that if/when you do, you're not alone.