Remove the foundation and the building must crumble. I could feel it going within the first week of my arrival back at PHC. New students and their families swarmed across the campus, as idealistic, faithful, and naive as I had been three years earlier. Daily chapel, which had been a chore before I left, became a lie: I would sit silently in the back corner while my fellow students sang, unable to participate, a sick pit in the bottom of my stomach.
I no longer knew what I wanted from my life, but the dread of another year of playing pretend was increasingly unbearable. I quietly withdrew from my classes, getting as much money back as I could. Then, one late night, I wrote an essay. In their last two years at PHC, students are required to write a “Faith and Reason” paper, a personal understanding of how rational thought and religious faith can work together. In my essay, I wrote that the honest application of reason to the world I saw made it impossible to continue to believe. Faith and reason, I wrote, could become mutually exclusive. They had for me, and I had chosen reason.
There’s a peculiar feeling I get when I write something I know to be true. My hands shake, my head buzzes, and my throat goes dry. Maybe it’s because true things come from a deeper place than the surface, or maybe it’s just because true things are dangerous. At three in the morning, staring at my heretical Faith and Reason essay, I felt that shake, that buzz, and knew this was a turning point. Publishing it would mean making my private change public to the world, would mean telling my friends and family, the vast majority of whom were Christian, that I no longer fit.
I made a decision then that has remained a central part of my approach to the world ever since. I had been hedging my bets, keeping my options open. I spent so much time maintaining my bridges that I never found the time to actually cross one.
If I wanted to move forward, I had to burn those bridges. I had to make graduation from PHC, and a life of pretending to a faith I could not hold, impossible.
I published the post. By the next day, I had over seventy comments, some sad, some aggressive, most concerned and prayerful, a few, from non-religious friends I’d made while traveling, enthusiastically supportive.
A week after that, my boss in the PHC tech department called me in and asked me to collect my things. He and my fellow co-workers regretted having to let me go—we’d all genuinely enjoyed working together—but PHC had a statement of faith, and denying that faith ment expulsion.
And just like that, I was cut free, no longer a student, no longer employed.
Messages continued to stream in. One condescendingly informed me that my reasons for leaving had been addressed in full by various theologians, and gave me a book list to read. Another agonized that Satan was winning the war for my soul. My mother called and said that, while my decision made her very sad, she still loved me and always would. One wedding even came of it, the result of an all-night prayer vigil turned romance; my apostasy is currently responsible for at least one brand new human that I’m aware of.
The emotion was too much. I was pulled between congratulations, condemnation, disappointment, encouragement, sadness, worry. I felt numb, like the world was going mute around me. I retreated into my apartment, where, surrounded by my books, I continued to read and learn and analyze. The decision to question my faith now blossomed to encompass and undermine every cornerstone of who I was, a process of deconstruction that would reach its zenith three years later, in the port city of Brighton, England.