10/12/2010 | Share this article:By Irish-American Girl ~
My story is not particularly dramatic, and I admit I am far, far more fortunate than so many nontheists in that I still retain a close relationship with my family, and lost no friends over my deconversion. Granted, the latter may be due to the fact I wasn't particularly open with my break from Christianity until college.
Image by mmwm via FlickrI was raised Roman Catholic. My father grew up in an Irish/Polish American Catholic household, and my mother came from a Methodist family. The first few years of my life were mostly spent in Catholic schools, though my parents moved my brother and me to public schools after several issues with the Catholic school that I'll not get into here.
Growing up, religion was part of my life, but never the central focus. We went to church; I prayed before I went to bed every night; and occasionally we held religious discussions. As a kid, I even loved reading my children's Bible - though more because I found them an interesting collection of stories than it being a focal point for religious belief. God and Jesus were simply facts of life to me, and I didn't think on them much. My parents focused more on raising their children with a sense of integrity and empathy for our fellow man, regardless of race, nationality, or creed. Religion was present - Communion, first Confessions, church on Sundays - but our lives hardly revolved around the Bible and God, at least not openly.
Even after we moved to Georgia, we actually attended church less often due to busier lives. I think this guilted my Catholic father some, as we would go after a few weeks because "we should" - like an obligation. We never became particularly involved in the Catholic community beyond Mass or the occasional church-sponsored event. My brother and I also attended Wednesday church classes after leaving Catholic church, so we didn't lose our connection to the Church completely. I've always looked at my family as a somewhat more average American family when it comes to religion - an important part of life, but not the center of our universe.
I never rejected other religions: even as an elementary school student, I retained a deep love for reading and studying ancient history and other cultures, so my exposure to other ways of life and philosophies began at an early age. I took these different faiths as alternate paths on the road to God, not things to look down upon or condemn. While aware of multiple religions as a child, the concept of nontheism did not occur to me.
Finally, frustrated with his pressing and questioning over my resistance, I told him the truth. [...] Thankfully, my father didn't reject or disown me. So what began my path to deconversion? It is difficult to pinpoint, for it took many years and no single event to take me away from Christianity. I never liked Mass or held much interest in church activities, and I've always been uncomfortable around displays of zealotry. So perhaps I was already predisposed for skepticism, yet didn't realize it until later. I became aware of atheism sometime in middle school after meeting a girl my age whose family was atheist. The concept of belief no god was confusing to me, though not offensive. I inquired her from time to time on her views and morality, simply curious more so than with an intent to convert. Perhaps she planted the early seeds in some way, but she never tried to sway my views either, and I didn't know her for long.
Wherever the exact point of doubt started, I know when I began truly doubting the Catholic church more than just disagreeing with certain views, such as the condemnation of homosexuality or the banning of women from the priesthood. In high school, my religious education classes focused on Bible study. While fairly versed in many of the parables and stories from my childhood days, I could hardly quote entire passages or cite verses. The classes began an in-depth study of the Bible and how it reflects on modern life. To be fair to the teachers, they focused more on morality and personal faith more so than conversion or condemnation. My issues weren't with them.
I did, however, have a problem with some of the passages we read. While other students and the teachers garnered lessons in faith, I only saw hatred and violence, excuses for horrible behavior towards other people. This deeply disturbed me, and I began thinking about other areas of my faith. I realized how much I disagreed with the Catholic doctrines - the very concept of priesthood as God's middlemen seemed to contradict the teachings that all are equal in their standing to the Almighty. The rituals and rules - so many rules! - often made little sense to me. I sat in discomfort during one class where they planned a Pro-Life rally for the next week. I kept my mouth shut, but I knew I wouldn't be attending that rally. My position always sat in the Pro-Choice camp; I sympathized with their core views on abortion, but found the concept of banning it impractical for an imperfect world. And I saw more and more impractical logic applied solely due to faith in an ancient, outdated institution.
By the time I reached my junior year in high school, I knew I wasn't Catholic, at the very least. I didn't want to let go of my faith entirely yet, and I struggled for some time searching for answers in other denominations, until I came to Deism for a time. I tried, I truly did - I read my Bible, debated with myself, talked in private with my mother about my struggles. But the more I read the "good" book, the more horrified I became with the depiction of its "loving" and "perfect" god, and the more I found I disagreed with it all. My moral integrity remained unchanged, but religion had nothing to do with it. Finally, just before I entered college, I came to the most honest conclusion for myself: I don't believe. Not in any particular deity, anyway. Nor do I know the answer for certain, and that I was okay with not knowing. It didn't change my code of ethics, nor my love for my family and other people.
It took some time before I had the courage to admit it to my father. I always feared rejection from him - a possibility that hurt far worse than any non-faith, because I take more after my father and always remained close to him. My mother, though a moderate Methodist herself, was always an empathizing figure in my life and listened to my views and supported me, even when she didn't agree with my conclusions. I didn't come out to my father until my first semester in college. If I recall, it was over Skype when he was pressuring me to join a local church and I kept fighting it. Finally, frustrated with his pressing and questioning over my resistance, I told him the truth. The following conversation changed topics quickly to avoid awkwardness. However, thankfully, my father didn't reject or disown me. I knew he was hurt and confused, but he continued to support and love me throughout college and afterward.
Religion is, however, a somewhat touchy subject for us. He still doesn't understand my views and sometimes I think he believes me anti-religious, though I have stated on many occasions I am not. I believe in the right for people to practice - or NOT practice - any faith they desire... So long as they do not FORCE it upon others, or bring malicious harm because of their religion. My lack of a particular faith but strong personal integrity is another point of puzzlement for my father. He knows I am, essentially, a good, moral person. However, this contrasts with his typical views of atheists and agnostics.
Sadly, for all his tolerance and intelligence, I will admit my father has some stereotypical views of all atheists as amoral and/or anti-religious thanks to his upbringing and his personal experiences. We usually avoid religion as a topic, though I occasionally get the passing comment that hints at his confusion and disapproval of my views, if not of me as his daughter. That does hurt me, I admit, but I will change my views simply to appease him. I won't lie to myself like that - it would be unfair to both of us.
Regardless of our personal disagreements on the subject, I am at least glad I am fortunate enough to have parents who still love and support me, and who respect my right to skepticism enough to no longer force me to go to church. I may not have my father's complete approval or understanding, but I am grateful for his love and respect for my right of dissent. It may not be perfect, but it is far more than so many others walking my path have, and I'll not forget that.
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