I may consider Christianity to be just another form of woo in terms of science and epistemology, but it’s pervasive where I live and wields undue political influence. That’s why I tend to devote more time to talking about it. Of course, like many American atheists, I used to be a Christian, but it tended to be in a far vaguer sense than the mainstream.
The typical Easter story never made sense to me.
While I was being raised with the church, most of the attention towards Jesus was about his teacher role. You probably know the general vibe: Love thy neighbor, blessed are the peacemakers, care for the sick, give to the poor, etcetera. That image of Jesus was what I grew up with. The lesson I inferred from being taught about Nice Guy Jesus was that he “saved” people by setting a good example, teaching pro-social values, and encouraging people to seek forgiveness so that they can atone for their past misdeeds, let go of past grudges, and do good in the world. Forgiveness was a compassionate act that acknowledges people’s imperfections. God and Jesus were forgiving because they were compassionate and they acknowledged people make mistakes. To me, Jesus’s crucifixion was a result of cruel people lashing out against him for subverting their authority, and his resurrection was a miracle showing divine endorsement of what he taught as well as “proof” that he was the son of God.
I suspect a lot of this was the result of my Sunday school teachers whitewashing the story to prevent confusion and annoying questions from curious children. Of course, once I got introduced to the mainstream interpretation, values dissonance set in, since they didn’t indoctrinate me into reciting the standard apologetics. Why would someone as merciful and compassionate Jesus judge people based on what they believe about the non-obvious instead of their morality? Why set up the clunky Goldberg device of Jesus’s alleged self-sacrifice to clean up sin as if it were some magical contaminant? Why would he automatically condemn unbaptized people to eternal torment? How can any minimally decent person even tolerate the idea of an eternal Hell?
I had little experience with pagan religions, just some Greek mythology segments in reading classes, stereotypes of ritualism, sacrifices, idolatry, and nitpicking bureaucratic attitudes towards how those activities are performed. From that point on, I tended to see fundies as people who were trying to “paganize” Christianity, while “true” Christians tended to emphasize good behavior, focusing on the spirit of the Bible, instead of the letter.
Then, at a rare family reunion, I got in an argument with some distant cousin about evolution (I was a theistic evolutionist) and Christian exclusivity, and he pretty much dared me to read Acts and a few other New Testament books so that I would understand. So I did. It did not have the results he intended. I saw the strong “pagan” aspects once I really read the raw content of the Bible, rather than filtered through Sunday school teachers and lesson plans. I saw a petty Zeus hurling thunderbolts, handing out plagues, curses and such to people for daring to oppose him instead of a wise, compassionate god resolving conflicts with clever arguments and compassionate examples. I realized the spirit of the Bible wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Over time, further reading showed me just how much cherry-picking was going on. There was a period where I contemplated emulating Thomas Jefferson and taking a chainsaw to the Bible and cutting out the obviously bad parts, but that desire waned as I realized just how much I’d have to cut. Sure, the good stuff was still there, but it just seemed so vanishingly small among the horrors and absurdities. The good stuff grew less meritorious as I learned more about other cultures and how they came up with much the same stuff. My disillusionment grew to the point I decided it’d be easier to start from scratch. I also ended up giving up on the “Christian” label as I saw more of the fundamentalists out there, deciding they sullied the name beyond rescue by separating the “True” Christians. That’s how I lapsed into a long phase of “spiritual but not religious.” I even spent some time as an atheist for moral/wishful thinking reasons while still believing in an afterlife and some vague newagey things. Eventually, my love for science and positive interactions with the skeptical community wore down my lingering supernatural beliefs. Now, I’m an atheist for the rational reason: No good evidence combined with the incoherence of god hypotheses.
It still gnaws at me that people can believe anything as absurd as the mainstream Easter myth. I am so glad I didn’t go through that level of indoctrination.