3/19/2017 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Elysia ~
I must first state that I am writing this as a 16-year-old high school junior, and that I still have many years to come until adulthood. This is just my experience with the religion, and I felt obliged to share it.
From the moment I was born, I was already "destined" to become a Christian. I was born (as an only child) into a Christian family, with both parents and the majority of their respective sides of the family as believers of Christ. My mom, originally from Indonesia, attended a Methodist school with her siblings as a child, while her parents were Buddhists. My dad was raised as Christian by his non-Christian parents in Taiwan. My mom had me baptized when I was only two months old. After that, I fully gave myself to Jesus Christ.
I lived in Monterey Park, California for the first eight years of my life, and attended church every Sunday with my parents. While they stayed in the "adult sermon" (as I called it) with the pastor preaching a lesson, I would be sent to the "children's service", where I would stay with about fifteen other kids my age to be introduced to the wonders of Christianity and the miracles of God and his son, Jesus Christ. For the first ten to fifteen minutes of our time together, one of the volunteers at the church would read us a story from the Bible (of course, a simplified version of that said story written especially for young ones). After those first ten minutes, we were basically free. We were offered food, and most of the leftover time was spent either playing with toys, coloring, reading books, or eating. After all, we were just children. We didn't understand those "big words" the adults were using nor what the pastor was talking about.
Ironically, my elementary school was also a church. It was officially the San Gabriel Christian School, which, as its name implies, was a school founded on the principles of Christianity and the teachings of Christ. I attended that school for only two years. SGCS was where my passion and true love for God emerged, as I was surrounded by a Christian environment everyday. Our core classes were centered around the love of Jesus, and I recall having a "church service" every Friday, in which teachers would also present Student of the Month awards every month to those intelligent or compassionate kids that had earned it. I was given the "Friendly" award in second grade.
I also remember one moment in which I was horrified and shocked to hear that my friend "didn't believe in God". "How could you say that?" I asked to that friend. "How could you say that you don't love the one who made you? He loves you so much!"
Let's skip ahead a few years to eight-year-old me. That year was a pivotal one in my life, as my family and I moved from the Los Angeles County to the more rural San Bernadino about an hour away. New people, new house, new school, new church. It was initially difficult for me to make an adjustment to my new life after moving away from the school I had loved so much, and the many friend I had made there. Believe me, it was tough on an eight-year-old mentally and emotionally.
With our move came attendance to a new church: Water of Life Community Church in Fontana. Again, I was grouped with all other children my age while my parents listened to the official sermon presented by the senior pastor. This time, the weekly hour spent together was not "wasted" playing with toys or drawing (much to my disappointment). The first item on our agenda was to worship the Lord through song and hymns, something that I was much too shy to actively participate in. I would sit down on the fuzzy ground while all the other kids would stand up, reach their hands out, and even sing along to the volunteer band that performed every Sunday just for us.
At school, it was hard for me to make friends. As that one new girl who moved from some city an hour away, most of my classmates decided either to ignore or to bully me. There was one girl who I distinctly remember taking much pleasure in tormenting and teasing me. And as a sensitive little girl, I'd cry. I'd cry at school and at home, and I'd bawl my eyes out when my parents picked me up from daycare (must I mention that that girl was also in after-school child care with me?). At night, before I slept, I'd ask my mom for advice on what to do about the bully. She'd simply smile at me and tell me, "Don't worry about it. Just pray to God, and he will take care of your problems for you. You need not worry." And so I did. I prayed every night for God to get rid of her, to send her far, far away from me and my school. My prayers were never answered, as her reign of terror lasted for three years until I graduated from elementary school in the fifth grade. Why didn't God answer me?, I'd ask myself. Did he ignore me? Does he not love me anymore because of my sins?
At church, I was becoming less and less motivated and energetic. I wouldn't close my eyes when everyone else prayed together in a circle, and I wouldn't join in on our group discussions. I hadn't drifted from the religion, however, but I was becoming more hesitant.
Adolescence came around the corner with the start of middle school. My life turned around after leaving the dreaded elementary school, and the bully ended up attending a different middle school. I was so, so relieved. Maybe my prayers have been answered, after all, I thought.
I had officially passed the "Empowered Kids" unit of Sunday School with the conclusion of my fourth grade year, and moved onto the "Club 56" unit for 5th and 6th graders. These few years of my life marked the beginning of my "questioning period", where I began to question the motives of Christianity. Some things just didn't make sense to me right off the bat. If God loved humanity and the Earth so much, why did he allow for horrible events such as World War II, the Holocaust, the Soviet ethnic cleansing, etc... to occur? Why would God even plant the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the first place when he explicitly knew that Adam and Eve would eat from it and basically ruin all of humanity? If God is all-powerful and all-mighty, why couldn't he just use his godly powers to restore peace and balance to the world? I just didn't get it.
I knew for a fact my mom would never approve of me questioning the Scripture and its teachings, so I avoided bringing up the topic to her. She was a devout Christian. Instead, I tried a different approach. At school, I tried opening up about my "observations" to a trusted friend. I told her that I "don't really believe in God", and, like my former self, she was horrified with my statement. I remember her telling me, "If there is no God, how were we created, then? How was this earth, this solar system, and this universe created?"
Attending church became more and more of a burden and a period of boredom for me, as I began tuning out the youth pastor after passing Club 56 and joining "Activate", the church's junior high and high school service. Like Empowered Kids and C56, we first worshiped and praised God through song, then listened to a "teen-relatable" message from that said youth pastor. I found both boring and unappealing, and started to wonder if I was even still Christian. I asked my best friend who attended church with my family every weekend, and she revealed that she was feeling the same.
I never really enjoyed Activate. I would pretend to need to go to the restroom and ask an assistant to go, but roam around aimlessly instead of actually going or returning to the service. While all the other teens would praise the Lord, my friend and I would sit in the back, eyeing each other during messages whenever we deemed it necessary (we weren't allowed to use our phones unless it was to view the Bible on an app).
Activate was supposed to be for seventh to twelfth graders, but I never actually sat through all of it. When I was thirteen, I asked my mom to join her in her "adult sermon" just to get a taste of it for once (and to escape Activate, in all honesty). She allowed me to sit with her, but I quickly found the senior pastor's messages to be as tedious, boring, and false as the youth pastor's. My friend stopped joining my family on Sundays. Nevertheless, I chose to stay with my parents instead of returning to Activate. A week passed, then two, then, three, then months, and finally, a year. I hadn't attended Activate in a year, and I heard that they had made many major changes. My mom insisted that I rejoin Activate, and she forced me to one of their "new" services. Again, I did not connect to their preachings (I felt farther away from God than ever before), and used my good 'ol trusty bathroom coy to leave. I was really beginning to feel like an atheist.
Eighth grade--the last year of middle school--rolled around the corner, and my disbelief for God was nearing its peak. My mom's overprotective tendencies were beginning to peak as well, and I knew I'd never be able to tell her what I felt without her disowning me or screaming at me or something. Luckily, I found refuge in my dad, who had began to question Christianity as well. He was an avid fan of author Jane Roberts, who claimed to channel a being named "Seth". My dad read all of Roberts's books, and would tell me, "The true religion in this world is the one you discover yourself, not the one that you are born into or forced into". I felt empowered by my dad's findings. We had to hide our beliefs from my mom, however. That meant I'd still have to attend church every single Sunday with my mom in order not to blow the cover. Bummer.
Today, I'm still an atheist. I still attend church (sadly), and my mom has yet to know of my religious de-conversion. I began totally ignoring the pastor. I would attempt to sneak on my phone to read about atheism while my mom listened to the message and while my dad pretended to sleep (but actually meditated). It was not always successful, and my mom caught me red-handed more than several times. She would scold me after the service about being "disrespectful to the pastor and to God" and that I couldn't even dedicate one hour to honoring God's greatness. I just passed all of her lectures as complete bullshit.
On more than one occasion, arguments between my mom and dad had started all because of church. My mom wanted the entire family to go, but my dad would try to blow off going by saying that he had to, say, fix the car or clean the swimming pool. My mom would become enraged at my dad, but eventually calm down. One argument between us even escalated to the point where she accused a "demon" of being in our house and being in possession of both my dad and me. With tears in her eyes, she screamed at me and poked her finger at my chest saying, "IN THE NAME OF JESUS, GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE!" I told her that I don't believe in demons, Satan, hell, heaven, or God, which was my indirect way of "coming out" as an atheist. She didn't really get the message, though.
Today, I'm still an atheist. I still attend church (sadly), and my mom has yet to know of my religious de-conversion. I must also mention my lack of exposure to other world religions (i.e. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc...), and my lack of knowledge. Being raised in an entirely Christian setting made me feel uncomfortable while around others who didn't share the same beliefs as me. I'd feel weird while being around women in hijabs or women with bindis on their foreheads. This feeling intensified when I traveled to Indonesia every two years with my mom, as the nation is predominantly Islamic.
Finding my passion for world cultures, religions, and languages also affected me in my choice to become an atheist. I was so ignorant of the things that were occurring in this world, and I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know the reasons behind terrorist attacks, the reason for religious segregation and discrimination, etc... I wanted to know. I was aware I wouldn't gain anything from talking to my mom (as her entire life revolves around Christianity), so I browsed online. I read about multiple world religions: Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Shamanism, Hinduism, atheism, etc... This and my readings of different world cultures and customs brought a new understanding of society and people in general.
I know I am writing this as a high school student who has decades of life and experience ahead of me, I know. My story is also not an... interesting or profound one, but being able to freely express myself on here has brought my great comfort and solace. Thank you so, so much for reading.