Between this past Christmas and New Years I was physically assaulted by my own brother, a Christian, for being an atheist. But that is not where I want to begin my story. I want to go back to my childhood.
My parents divorced when my mother was eight months pregnant with me, so I laughingly call myself a reverse bastard. But the sad reality is that my father was an apostolic minister and terrorized my mother, which is why she left him. I have seen my father exactly five times in my whole life, and I am now 31 years old. I am the only child that my parents created together, but have 12 brothers and a sister of which I am the youngest by almost 10 years. My siblings started having grandchildren before I ever had my first child. There is quite a generation gap to say the least. Amongst all those siblings I have various levels of relationships – two I’ve never met, three deceased, and two I haven’t seen since I was three years old. Growing up I was only close to two of my brothers, and only spent any considerable time under the same roof with one of them. With him I was the closest, and he was the one who eventually assaulted me.
For the sake of this testimonial I shall call my brother Rick, but that is not his real name. Rick is nine and a half years older than I am, and he was my childhood hero. I remember at the age of five I thought I would grow up to marry him – not understanding at five years old that siblings don’t marry. I just loved him. Anything he did I wanted to be a part of. He loved Kiss and the Beatles and Queen – so to this day I love those bands. When he wanted to start a band of his own I wanted to play keyboards in his group. When he married and had children I was 11 years old, and his children became my entire world. I wanted to spend every waking minute with my brother and his babies, that’s where I was the happiest.
About the time I was 12 my brother started to seriously seek God. Growing up our mother was very private about her own beliefs, but she let me go to church with any friends I wanted. It never mattered the denomination – Catholic, Pentecostal, Assembly of God, whatever – so I considered myself a general Christian but never gave it serious consideration. But when Rick started fervently seeking God I followed along happy to be with him. I have to add that at the age of 13 I was raped, so I was broken and hurting in my own way. Christianity fed on that pain and gave me a place to feel safe and loved – and as a bonus I got to be with my brother the hero.
My brother’s quest for truth led us to the United Pentecostal Church – hard core fundamentalists. The one thing the fueled my brother’s fervor with Christianity was the end times, the rapture, the apocalypse, whatever you want to call it. I remember watching the “Left Behind” videos with him and having them scare the hell out of me – or scare me out of hell as it were. From that time on I was the best little Christian you could imagine. I carried my bible to public school (8th grade at the time) and wore my ankle length dresses with pride.
Around that time my brother and his family moved away to another state. I was devastated. So I started spending all my time with the church – the pastor’s family specifically. They had five children under the age of eight, and my being 14 made a great babysitter. I spent the night at their house and I traveled with them to every revival, camp meeting, youth group and other gathering that came along. I taught Sunday school and went door-knocking and everything. When they decided to start a grade school in the church I bid public school adieu and began my high school education at my church. I practically lived at the church, when I wasn’t at the church I was at the pastor’s house. The church was my life – I did absolutely everything the church doctrine said I needed to in order to be saved. I stopped cutting my hair, I stopped watching TV, I only wore dresses – I was perfect in every little detail because I was so happy to belong, to have friends, to be loved, to be saved.
My freshman year went fine, but things started to fall apart in my sophomore year. I did that one unthinkable thing that you are never, ever supposed to do as a Christian – I started to ask questions. The answer I got was, “If you pastor says it over the pulpit then it is law,” by the pastor’s wife. That didn’t sit well with me, but I let it go. One day though, I was struggling with something in my life and did what I was supposed to do – I talked to my pastor about it. And I’ll never forget him saying to me, “Well you can believe that if you want but don’t shove it down our (his family’s) throats.” I don’t even remember what the subject was about anymore, but his reaction stunned me, shocked me, and hurt me. Two other things happened that made me lose faith in my pastor and his family. First, I had another brother that was and still is an atheist that I adore, and I was told to never see him again unless he was on his death bed and asked for prayer. Second, I had a friend who was a Wiccan – I was told she was pure evil and I couldn’t accept that because she was the sweetest and kindest person I’d ever met.
That was the beginning of the end. I stopped going to school and church (same thing) and fell into a deep, deep depression. The church had hammered it into my head so hard that they held the only truth that I knew for a fact that by not going to church I was going straight to hell. That led to awful panic attacks. One panic attack lasted two whole days and the only thing that calmed me down was me making my mother swear she wouldn’t take the mark of the beast even if it meant losing her life. She swore me she wouldn’t, but I think it was just to calm me down since she didn’t believe. The ONLY thing that kept me from killing myself is the belief that suicide was a one way ticked to hell – seriously.
For months I didn’t get out of bed, or bathe, or talk to anyone except my mother. When I did finally pull myself out of it I found myself 17 years old with a 9th grade education. I decided to get my GED, which I did in the course of one week. Then I wanted to go to college, but with a 9th grade education the only place that would look at me was community college. I have to point out that I still considered myself a Christian at this point – I held my own bible studies and hung out with a group of Seventh Day Adventists. That is actually where I met my husband. I was hard core Christian too – I bought a parallel bible that had the original Greek and Hebrew along with their literal translations and read the whole thing in my search for truth along with the Apocrypha and Dead Sea Scrolls. I still believed that the world was going to end at any moment so we got married soon after I turned 18 - because I didn't believe I had much time left.
In college I took every course on religion and philosophy that I could get my hands on. There I discovered Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism, Yoga and every other major world religion. I expanded my personal religious philosophy to include many teachings from all of these “Wisdom Traditions” as I was taught to call them. Eventually I swung from Christian all the way to Pagan. I bought all the paraphernalia and attended rituals. I wore my pentacle with pride. I want to say that I have met some lovely, lovely people during that time that I will be friends with forever.
When I graduated college I had Bachelor of Science degrees in both Mathematics and Psychology. That was 2005.
Let’s turn back to my brother, Rick, who had had an ugly divorce in the meantime. We had lived apart from when I was a young teenager until 2007, when he moved to my town along with 2 of his 3 teenage children. I moved here to go to university in 1999, my mother moved here when she closed her business in 2005, and Rick followed when job opportunities dried up in the town he lived in. I was still a Pagan at the time he moved here. Shortly afterward I told him that I wasn’t a Christian and hoped he was OK with it. He responded rather indifferently, saying something like – I believe Jesus is the way but it’s your life. And that is where the conversation ended, he didn’t ask any details.
A few weeks later Rick and I got into a fight about something totally unrelated to religion. He ended up getting mad at me because I disagreed with him and ended the fight by yelling, “You need Jesus!” and slamming a door in my face.
My personal quest for truth continued without Rick’s involvement or knowledge, though he eventually found out I was a “Pagen” as he spelled it. I have to say that it was well over a year ago that I found ExChristian.net and I still thought of myself as a Pagan. But on the site I found videos and resources that cascaded into more and more and more info than I imagined. One video series that I found particularly touching was the one from Evid3nc3 about his process going from Christian from Atheist – I still watch his new videos as he produces them. After all that I read and saw I realized that even though I’d called myself a Pagan for a long time, I really was an atheist all along – and atheist with a pentacle. I never really believed in the multitude of gods that pagans invoke. I realized that I loved the fantasy of it all - The special robes and pretty decorations and oh the jewelry – it appealed to my fantastical nature.
But the side of me that pursued a degree in Mathematics -- Magna Cum Laude – knew better. When I really started exploring atheism it was the only thing that made sense. I want to say that I was torn between studying Mathematics and Physics, even though Mathematics ultimately won Theoretical Physics holds a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf.
So for two years an unsaid agreement existed between me and my brother – I didn’t mention anything non-Christian and he pretended that the whole world was Christian. He’d left every church he’d ever gone to because he found something to disagree with them about in the Bible – he even got himself ordained online because he couldn’t find a church who agreed with him. Whenever he tried a new church and inevitably found something they did wrong and left I had to listen to it. I listened to him quote Bible verses that “proved” the offending church wrong and he was right. I listened to him when he would tell me about the things God had told him – prophesies and promises. And I never said a word – I smiled and nodded to keep the peace even though I found many things he said to be offensive. I didn’t even speak up when his 16 year old daughter told me that I would burn up if I went into the local Christian bookstore.
I want to make a special point here that when I got rid of all my bibles and Christian materials I gave them to my brother – that’s how "unsupportive" I was of his Christianity.
One day things blew up between us. On his Facebook status he wrote:
“If we ever forget that we're one nation under GOD, then we will be a nation gone under..' -Ronald Reagan, someone should tell this to Obama that says, "We are no longer a Christian nation. That was only about 25 years ago, people wake up, Jesus is coming!”
I replied by telling him that we are not a Christian nation and provided the following quotes from the founding fathers:
George Washington "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion”.
Thomas Jefferson ""No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever." and "Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the Common Law."
Benjamin Franklin "Lighthouses are more helpful than churches." and "In the affairs of the world, men are saved, not by faith, but by the lack of it."
Thomas Paine "All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."
Abraham Lincoln ""The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession."
That sparked a fight between us that was ugly, but we ended it in a fairly civil manner. But the damn had broken. From that point on whenever I saw him post offensive things – about gays, or atheists, or whatever – I would comment. Every time it sparked a fight. One time he even told our mother he was never speaking to me again and that she should never invite us both to her house at the same time. Then later he called me and told me that God said he should forgive me.
Things went back to being the way they were before. He spouted off Christian things all the time and I said nothing – except once when I said all religions were myths. He got mad at me, and in the end he asked me, “If you don’t believe in an afterlife why not live for God just in case?” That isn't a direct quote, but the gist of what he asked me - twice. I didn’t answer him right away, but thought about it. A few days later I sent him a link to a video from Edward Current as an answer to that question – a satirical video where Edward had converted to ALL religions just in case one of the many gods out there could damn him to hell. I found the video witty and thought it made the point perfectly of why I can’t live for god ‘just in case’.
That started a maelstrom. My brother HATES Edward Current with a passion and refused to watch the video at all. He responded by telling me, “I honastly believe that you suffer the way you do because you have rejected Christ. Not that I believe that Jesus has done this to you, but rather Satan has you bound.”
Mind you I’ve been suffering from terrible back pain since I was a child from a congenital birth defect – and I've suffered before, during, and after the time I was a Christian. Hurt beyond words I told him that any god that would make me suffer like I do for using the free will he supposedly gave me is beneath my contempt. It degraded even further from there with him telling me that I was going to Hell and that it was probably too late for me to be saved, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Bless my tolerant and loving mother. The whole situation hurt her, her children fighting and hurting, so I agreed to talk face to face with my brother for her sake. The conversation started out calm and civil. He said I was militant anti-Christ and I told him the Bible was historically inaccurate, but it was honestly calm. Up until the point when he told me how much I’d offended him by calling all religions myths (which happened WEEKS earlier). I told him that he had said things I found offensive but I never held onto it or held a grudge over it. He asked me, most condescendingly, what had he ever said that I found offensive (from his tone I could tell that he sincerely believed that he’d never said a single offensive thing in his life and that I wouldn’t be able to come up with an example).
In response, I started listing off all the times he’d told me about God speaking to him and all the times he’d walked away from a church because of a disagreement and needed to tell me all about the bible verses that backed up his opinion – and I gave specific examples, not generalizations.
Well, that started him on a tirade of verbal abuse. He started shouting things at me like, “I don’t like you” “I don’t care about you” “I hate people like you” “If you weren’t my sister I’d never associate with you” and other things. Now my 4-year-old son kept trying to get into the room Rick and I were talking in, so I stood in front of the door to keep my boy from seeing his uncle yelling at me.
I couldn’t get a word in edgewise while he was yelling – I kept saying, “Can I say something?” to no avail. At one point I asked Rick, “Where did this anger come from? What did I say?”
He responded by saying, “That’s it, I’m leaving.”
Since I was in front of the door to the room he grabbed me. In defense I pushed him off of me and said, “Listen to me.”
He grabbed me again and threw me to the ground hard and said, “No I’m not,” then stormed out of the room. I mentioned that I’ve had terrible back problems most of my life – the impact of being thrown to the ground, over a pile of boxes has caused me terrible pain ever since.
Now Rick hasn’t spoken to me since that night, but he told my husband that he has nothing to apologize for because he’s done nothing wrong. He has told our mother that I pushed him first and that I “fell” over the boxes. The final blow was him writing a blog on his public MySpace page about being “forced” to end a relationship with a non-Christian family member. It was full of hell talk and self-righteousness.
I’ve been crushed ever since because my one time hero turned into my abuser – all over religion. His daughter refuses to speak to me, and our mother is hurting but sympathetic. I have an appointment to speak to a psychologist soon to help me deal with the emotional impact of the situation. The simple fact of the matter is that no one has done more to turn me away from Christianity than Rick has – I think that is poetic irony.
Today I am a confident atheist, one not afraid of god or hell. And if I could say one thing to my brother is that he shouldn’t bother to pray for me because I’ve committed the unforgivable sin – I DENY THE HOLY SPIRIT!
Filed Under: Testimonials