I was born into a Southern Baptist Christian family. Before I could hold my head up on my own I had been “dedicated” to God. I accepted Jesus as my savior when I was four years old and was baptized when I was five.
And so began my experience with the Pentecostal Holiness Church. The Pentecostal Holiness denomination is based on the belief in the Pentecost and the “gifts of the spirit” which include “speaking in tongues” as well as being “slain in the spirit” and many others. Growing up, all of this made perfect sense to me and I didn’t understand why anyone would live any other way. I was “witnessing” to my friends to save their souls from hell by age 6 or 7. When I was eleven I was starting a youth group in my neighborhood to warn other kids my age about the impending apocalypse. And I first spoke in tongues when I was twelve. I was in a room full of other girls my age and the focus of our Wednesday night meeting was for everyone to accept the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. I didn’t realize it then, but I was already a skeptic. I watched the other girls with the 5 or 10 “prayer warriors” that had come to assist with the night’s project. They all spoke in tongues before I did. While I thought that it was all rather strange and didn’t understand it, I did understand that it was expected of me and that I was obviously not a “normal” Christian if I wasn’t doing it too. And so, after hours of attempting to invite the holy spirit into my body, I finally spoke in tongues. Most of the other girls were still going at it. I recall standing there with the strange babble coming out of my mouth and thinking that it was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen.
I continued to go to the same church for the next several years. I participated in all of the church functions and carried my bible every day to the public school my parents had finally sent me to. Despite accusations of being weird, I continued to show my dedication to my god. At some point I realized that I very rarely read my bible because I couldn’t make any sense out of it. It also disturbed me that my god was so violent and, at times, merciless, and so I ignored it all together. I didn’t begin to question things until the eleventh grade. My parents tend to think that I began questioning their beliefs because of the public school setting, though I can assure you, that was not the case.
It began with my junior prom. The issue was not the question of sex or men in general. I was so caught up in my studies that I could have cared less about dating (and I was still pro-abstinence at that point). My best male friend was a black classmate named Markas. We decided to go to prom together since neither of us was dating at the time. When I brought the idea up to my parents, my father reacted much more strongly than I had expected. What followed my suggestion was a series of lectures about interracial relationships and how “no daughter of mine is going anywhere with a black man!” or something to that effect. I asked him how he could feel that way when God wanted us to love everyone equally. However, my reasoning was wasted on him. I didn’t go to prom with Markas that year, but I did save the last dance for him.
After my prom, I began to ask questions. Neither my parents nor my pastors were comfortable answering most of them. The ones they did take into consideration were answered with bible verses that left me with more questions that they refused to answer. At times, I offended people to the point of anger. Somehow, the fact did not sit well with me. This continued throughout the twelfth grade. Though I had many unanswered questions, I never doubted that God was real or that Christianity was the only way of living. It was just an accepted fact that I never thought to doubt. I didn’t want to go to Hell! So, while I had questions, I pushed them to the back of my mind and continued daily life as always.
After graduation I met Aaron. He wasn’t anything special – he was just a boy, a little over a year older than me – but he knew things I didn’t. He knew about life and about living and he opened my eyes to a world of things I had been missing. It was his influence that led to my decision to lose my virginity to one of his friends. To me, it was a big deal. It was a major turning point in my life and I realized after doing it that I didn’t feel bad about it. I thought there would be guilt and possibly fear of God’s judgment, but there wasn’t. It felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was finally able to let go of the good girl facade and live a little bit. But then my dad read my journal. What followed was a daughter’s worse nightmare. There was no yelling or arguing. There was a simple, “I’m so disappointed in you,” and he took away the “true love waits” ring he had given me on my 16th birthday. My parents told me that they were disappointed, but not as much as God was, but that god would forgive me and take me back. All I had to do was repent and vow not to do it again.
I soon became a self-proclaimed “seeker”. I was in search of the truth and would be for several years. I joined the Air Force and moved to Alaska, all the time seeking out answers but not finding any. But all the time I believed in God, Heaven, and Hell. I never questioned their existence because it never occurred to me to question it. I got married when I was 19 to a Presbyterian. Most of the women in the congregation were stay-at-home moms who didn’t believe in women in the workplace, birth control, or blue jeans. I once asked a question during a “theological discussion” between the men at a home gathering. I received sharp glares and no answers. I received the same when they found out I had voted for Obama. I still had serious doubts about religion, but I didn’t doubt God.
The final turning point was during a discussion with an Army medic. He was telling a story about an experience he had on a deployment. He was in a helicopter with wounded soldiers and there were no other planes around. Suddenly, enemy planes filled the sky and he knew they were dead. So he prayed that God would help them. And then the friendly forces came and shot down the enemy planes, killing them in the process. That was how he became a Christian. And that was how I became a non-believer. I realized that whether I was frightened of Hell or not, I couldn’t believe in a God that people believed would kill others for their gain. So my questions remained, but I knew my loyalty could not lie with such a god.
And then I found Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, ex-christian.net, and the Atheism Subreddit. And now I’m sure. I’ve talked to many others with backgrounds similar to mine and I’ve accepted over the past several months that children in America are brainwashed by Christianity. They are so open and willing to accept what they’re told that they don’t question things. And by the time they think to question them, it’s too late. Luckily, I have a support system that has allowed me to question things and finally find the answers that I was looking for. I will not believe in a god who condones rape and murder (to name a few). I would rather believe in the universe or whatever else doesn’t kill people in the name of religion. I am now an Atheist. This is my first time saying it (typing it) and it is rather empowering.
On a side note, my father recently found out that his great grandfather was black.
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