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The Real World Changes You

or, Losing My Religion

By Daisy of Berry Bramble Cottage ~

I was raised in a conservative Christian home. I married young, just barely voting age. I became a mother before I was old enough to drink. I left the world of higher education and employment outside the home to be a full-time homemaker. It sounds like the usual fundamentalist script, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t.

You see chopsticks came alongside the Oneida stainless steel flatware in our wedding gifts. I married a man from a different racial, cultural and religious background from myself, a baby Christian of a few years at the time. He was and still is active duty military. His family is very different than mine. Just as the forks and chopsticks collided in the silverware drawer so did my myopic lily white American background and the Real World I was about to enter.

Life is simple when everybody looks, talks, acts, and believes as you do. War is easy when it’s on a television screen and safely contained in a nation thousand of miles away. Everything is perfect and bright and cheery when the world is at your young feet and life will work out perfectly for you. You’ve made the right choices, the sort on which blessings are bestowed, everything will work out splendidly you think. The black and white of being a teenage Baptist Republican is easy breezy compared to the deep reflection and thoughtful considerations demanded by the shades of gray that is Real Life.

Teenage bride, far away from home, immersed in a new subculture, intrigued but scared out of my mind. That was Younger Me. The fear won out over the curiosity and to the Bible I fled deeper and deeper as a form of protection from the Big Bad Real World. This formula worked well for several years. I learned to cook, clean, sew, bake, garden, can, embroider, and recite memory verses like never before. We budgeted, worked hard to make debt disappear, and learned to life frugally. It was reasonably smooth sailing until The Blessing was finally conceived. Two years into marriage, terribly long by fundie standards and the first baby blessing came and went quickly. It was then the questions began but I brushed them aside as only the pure in faith could ever be given a child. Then Rose arrived in my womb and life became different.

She didn’t look like me when she was first born. A few people asked where she was adopted from. Rationally I knew this might happen but the intellectual idea of raising a multiracial child hardly prepared me for the reality on the ground. It was a profound experience and one that began to distance me from many people we knew who didn’t share this multi-culti world with us. Have you ever tried to find a children’s book with Korean people on the shelf of the brick-and-mortar bookstore? Neither had I until Rose had arrived. The same with dolls and other toys. You usually have to special order them. Have you scanned your little one’s books for somebody who looks like them only not to find them? Another new experience of mine at that point too. Suddenly the conservative rhetoric I grew up in melted away as I came to understand that white privileged was very real.

We broke ranks with our conservative Christian peers with many childrearing decisions. No corporeal punishment. On-demand and extended ecological breastfeeding. Co-sleeping and no sleep training. Babywearing and solid food delaying. We didn’t find out our baby’s sex until her birthday building a layette full of gender neutral clothing and buying all “big purchases” in green and/or primary colors. We took our daughter home in a yellow duck sleeper to a home where she was catered to in a way deemed highly inappropriate by the Christian parenting experts whose books had been highly recommended. Looking back now I realize this was the beginning of the end. We had to defend our choices at every corner but stuck to them we did; a perseverance I’m most thankful for today.

Rose grew and thrived right alongside my questions and life lessons. My husband deployed for a year and I found myself frenetically studying Islam as his experiences with the people in the Middle East during multiple deployments had been night and day different from what our peers seemed to think they should have been. I studied, compared and contrasted, and couldn’t stop reading everything I could get my hands on. I was struck not by the differences in beliefs but the many similarities, both in print and in people. Wonderful marriage and parenting advice was gleaned from several texts and meaningful moments of friendship were experienced by my husband overseas. I developed an affection for the people trapped under tyrannical and hegemonic governments who do not enjoy the same intellectual and religious freedom as do you and me. The non-believers, the nominal believers of the faith, they cannot “speak out” against the terrorists as well-fed and comfortable Americans often demand, for they can be killed or punished for their disbelief. Their world is not ours; we cannot demand of them sacrifices we would never be able to make ourselves.

This understanding brought up troubling questions, ones I sought to get answers from from clergy, fellow Christian believers, and friends. The responses were trite and trivial, almost pre-packaged, and not at all satisfactory for somebody grappling with matters that were not just religious but ones that quite literally could be of life and death. Was the fight against Islamic hegemony worth my husband’s life? Was I willing to be a young widow for my nation? Was my daughter missing out on time with her father, and he losing out on her precious life, worth the sacrifice? Why in our denomination was it a terrible sin for me to, say, work part-time outside the home but acceptable for my husband to deploy for a year? The questions had always been there of course, but they burned with an urgency then that I had never felt before or since.

The only person who understood where I was, the only one I could turn to, was the one who was already at the end of this journey himself: my husband. A foxhole had made him an atheist by Christina standards when the tragedies he saw took away the idea of a loving benevolent savior, personally involved in each of our lives. He was the only one who could handle my doubts and issues, the only one who knew just how terrified I was of hell and just what ramifications could come in my personal life if I did, indeed, lose my faith. He was the bearer of the war stories and the one that knew how deeply they impacted me. Together we’d said hello to assignments, goodbye to friends, and weathered the storms of life. It felt as if it were me and him against the world, fighting a battle so that we could get to safety of the mountain top to see the truth in the value below.

I read that losing your faith is like being trapped in a riptide; the more you fight, the more tired you become, the more likely you are to drown, You will only be safe when you stop fighting and let the tide bring you out to the safety of the sea. I fought in that riptide for a very long time. I didn’t want to lose my faith, truly I didn’t for the price is so great. I vividly recall waking up at night when my husband was deployed, struggling to breath and feeling intensely nauseated so crippling was the fear that he would be killed in action as punishment for my apostasy. I fought, reasoned, and rationalized against it for several years, desperate for the inevitable not to come to pass. It happened anyway despite my best efforts, all on its own: I lost my religion.

Sometimes what you want to believe isn’t what you do, or even can, believe. Social pressure, the ease of a church based social life and the fear of hell fire all make a belief in Christianity mighty appealing but that doesn’t mean you can believe. Pascal’s Wager can’t suspend experience, questions and reality; it can’t plant seeds where the soil is barren. It doesn’t undo the horrors of war, the grief of pregnancy losses, the errors in the text or the shared beliefs of many religions throughout history. It doesn’t acknowledge the evolution of belief that has brought us to the religions of the modern day nor does it address the theological controversies in the ancient world that may have informed the biblical texts through the tool of intellectual war that was the scribe’s pen. Faith doesn’t always exist just because you wish it were so. It’s not that easy.

People ask what I believe now and the only honest answer is I don’t know. I retain a great love and respect for the teacher that was Jesus and the many noble and beautiful Christians who have touched my life. There exists no hostility in my heart towards Christianity or religion in general. I’m not a New Atheist or truly an atheist at all if that’s what anybody is getting at. An oil painting of Buddha hangs over our fireplace; a painting of Mary and baby Jesus directly across the room. My studies continue as I seek to make sense of the human experience and myself through theology, science, psychology and philosophy tomes . We’re raising our daughter to be an ethical and moral individual leaning heavily on Confucius and Buddhist and, yes, Christian teachings and are open to her inquiry and free thought when it comes to unraveling the mysteries of spiritual and the divine. I wander but am not lost, just enjoying the journey and learning along the way.