5/03/2014 | Share this article: View Comments
I was raised Lutheran and spent most of the first 13 years of my life at church, Sunday school, or attending the private school sponsored by my parents' church. I was an unusual child, preferring books and sketchpads to normal social interaction, and my congregation was of the "ignorance is spiritual bliss" philosophy. Every child under 15 at that church and school treated me like shit, which I'm honestly not too pissed about now that I'm older and know more about the shitty family dynamics they were dealing with at the time. My real issue is with the adults - teachers, pastors, and other parents - who repeatedly turned a blind eye to my peers' torment of me or encouraged me to see their maltreatment as an opportunity to be more "Christ-like" and "turn the other cheek." Some of them even threatened to deal out identical punishments to myself and my bullies if I raised another complaint. Furthermore, the curriculum was about as challenging to me as one of those mazes you find on the side of a Happy Meal box, and the sum total of all these factors was that I was miserable. I got into several fights in middle school, none of which elicited any intervention from my teachers, and by the time I graduated 8th grade I harbored a deep and burning hatred for humanity.
I went on to a public high school where I met truly decent people who embraced my quirks and appreciated my creativity. I was still required by my parents to attend church and Sunday school, but during the week I was able to learn non-religious curriculum in a secular environment with teachers who actually reported incidents such as classroom fights. Incidentally, I never got into any fights in high school as no one bothered me much. It was at this point that I was exposed to the basic science behind evolution by natural selection, a topic that I have grown interested in over the years and one that is integral to my current career goals. On top of that, my Christian school required its students to wear uniforms, whereas at public school I was allowed to express myself freely through my wardrobe. As a result of all these factors, a lot of my behavioral problems began to subside and members of my congregation at the time commented to my mother that I "blossomed" after entering high school. My parents still stood by their decision to give me a "good Christian education" despite the fact that I clearly do better in secular environments.
Throughout high school I was required to attend Sunday school and since I refused to attend "classes" with my peers - the same ones I had so much trouble with in elementary and middle school - my parents made me attend the adult Bible study which was led by our extremely misogynistic pastor. I frequently challenged his blatantly sexist remarks, frequently halting discussion and making the environment extremely awkward for all attending. Despite all this I still clung to "my faith" because that was how I was raised and that was the primary channel through which I related to my family. Eventually, however, I became fed up with church and after three years of tension building my father and I had a fight outside the church during the middle of a service that resulted in the very people who had forced me to come to church banning me from any future services. I was perfectly okay with this, as I had been trying to escape church since infancy.
I still clung to "my faith" because that was how I was raised and that was the primary channel through which I related to my family.Soon after being emancipated from church I began college and found myself drawn to the fields of evolutionary psychology, biological anthropology, and behavioral ecology. The further I delved into my chosen field the more I realized that I never quite bought this whole Jesus thing. Admitting this to myself and most of my close friends was one of the most liberating things I've ever done, but I could never tell my family. I cannot even discuss my schoolwork with my mother without her slipping god into the conversation somehow. She continually urges me to come back to church despite her involvement in banning me from it years ago. I understand her reasons for being religious - her mother died when she was 14 and she has since seen a lot of rough patches in life. She clearly needs the peace religion brings her, but she does not seem to grasp that religion has only ever brought me pain. She finally admits that she should have put me in public school as a child and has recognized that my mental and emotional well-being have improved since I left the church.
As a result, it is difficult for me to come to a good place with regards to my beliefs. While I agree with my mother that dealing with so much conflict and rejection as a child has made me into a stronger, more resilient adult, she wants me to use that strength for the benefit of the church that made such strength necessary. To make matters worse, a few weeks after I finally permitted myself to let go of my sad attempts at faith a family friend just found out one of her children was an atheist and my mother expressed feelings of extreme pity. I knew then that I could not tell her of my true beliefs lest I become just another misfortune in her life. Still, all she talks about is Jesus and I cannot have a religious conversation with her for fear of revealing that I do not share her beliefs.
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