I should be doing my homework, or cleaning or working out but instead I’m f-ing around on Facebook, or what I like to call “The Enemy of Productivity”. I saw a post from Ex Christian and it reminded me that I wanted to tell my story for a while. Well, not my story, really, but my sister’s story. Since I’m running low on ways to procrastinate, I figure now is a good time.
We grew up in a catholic home, liberal enough for my parents to let us know that we had to go to college to make it in this world but conservative enough for us to all go to Catechism every Monday night and church every Sunday. My dad was far more conservative than my mother but because they married young and had 5 girls in 7 years, he worked more often than he was home and when he was around he was mostly angry and controlling. I tried to avoid him as much as possible. My mother, who was mostly liberal, was also overworked being employed at an office working the night shift and then coming home to take care of 5 girls. We had it good though, my parents loved us and we knew they loved us. While we didn’t have nice clothes or lots of toys we were close as a family. And I considered the sister one year older than me, my best friend. We slept in the same room, and even in the same bed when she let me sleep with her. We caught frogs during the summer months and made forts inside during the winter months. Until we were about 10 and 11 we were inseparable.
When we both hit puberty we became enemies more or less. All of our lives she had been neat and clean, she liked things a certain way while I was messy and spontaneous. She studied hard in school and made good grades and I didn’t like doing anything that didn’t come easy to me. When we started to mature she got more controlling, while I got more confused and depressed with my struggles to control my hectic mind. She started reading the bible every night, while I gave up god. We didn’t get along any more and fought most of the time. I think she was embarrassed by me the way I dressed and acted and I couldn’t live up to her standards.
I stopped believing when I was just 13. I did it out of spite at first, but the older I got, the more I learned about the inconsistencies in the bible and how much science can answer it became more of a truth than a rebellious phase. But that was a long long time ago, and this isn’t really my story.
Rachel and I stayed enemies and out of touch for all of our teen years into our early 20’s. We still talked sometimes and when we had a good time, it was really good. But she was still very controlling and actually, kind of a bitch. No, not kind of, but really a bitch. If she didn’t like something, or it wasn’t up to her standards, she let everyone and everything know. She yelled or snapped at people constantly, and lost friends as soon as she made them. She alienated her family and being in the same room as her during the holidays was unbearable. I’m not saying that I was a peach or my other sisters weren’t nuts too, but it hurt more coming from her because we had at one point been so close. And I thought we still could be if she could let her standards down a little bit.
When we were in our mid 20’s we started hanging out a little bit more. She was done with college and comfortable in her career, I had left the military and moved back to our home state, working at a job I loved. It was a hard start. She introduced me to her friends, most of who constantly complained to me about her crappy attitude when she wasn’t around. She read all sorts of self help books aimed at using the holy spirit to better yourself but I could tell that she had to force being nice to people. She was happy one moment and angry and upset the next. You could see her moods change at the drop of a dime. It was hard being around her sometimes because you never knew if you were going to do something that offended her. It was confusing to me because she was very successful at her job and generous with her wealth, she worked so hard to be where she was. But I felt like she was constantly trying to live up to a standard that she set for herself that were unbelievably high.
I knew she was religious and I knew she went to church. She made references to god here and there. We had once talked about religion but it ended in an argument. I asked her how she could still possibly believe in a god. She said she just knew that there was one. I said something like “But you’re so smart, usually the smarter you are, the less likely you are to believe in god.” It was probably not the nicest thing to say to her but I personally could not see why she believed in something so ridiculous when she was so damn smart!
Things took a drastic change for the better when one night, pretty much out of the blue, she stated that she no longer believed in god. We were sitting around the table, playing cards with some of her friends and she just sort of stated this. My jaw dropped. Her reasoning, which I’m sure we can all relate to, is that she sinned, but did not feel guilty for the sin. And if god made her the way she is, why did he make her not feel guilty for sinning. She said that most of here life she felt more guilt from not feeling guilty than she ever did from the actual act of sinning. She couldn’t wrap her mind around it. One of her friends started to silently cry but I just smiled and said “Well, if you need someone to talk to about it, you know I’ve been an atheist for years.”
Honestly, I assumed that would be the last I’d hear from it, Rachel wasn’t all about asking me, her less successful sister, for opinions or advice. But she did, day after day she talked about how she felt about suddenly realizing there was no god. At first she thought that it might be a phase, a spiritual slip. But in my experience from meeting other atheists, once you have that epiphany, there’s no going back. For me, the only thing I could do was give her information. I couldn’t really relate to her because I had given up god 15 years prior when I was much, much younger. But I did buy her some Dawkins literature and gave her links to some websites that I like to frequent (this one included).
The transformation from being an uptight bitch to an understanding laid-back women was unbelievable. She laughed more easily, forgave faster and snapped less. We became so much closer and it was awesome. I saw a side of my sister that I never knew existed. We finally had something great in common and for me, it was nice to have an ally in the family.
I asked her about it, too. I told her that she changed and was so much more fun now that she left religion. Her answer to that was that she didn’t feel guilty anymore. She was always so miserable because she thought she was a bad person for not feeling guiltier. She thought she was evil, but it turned out, she just plain and simply didn’t feel bad for her actions. (And let me stress, she’s not a cold blooded killer or a baby snatcher. Most of the guilt, I think, came from the weird Catholic way we’d been raised to feel ashamed about sex. ) She’s happier now. She has said that she is still mourning over the fact that there is no heaven and that we don’t go anywhere when we die. I don’t know what to say about that to her, either. I just tell her being dead is probably a lot like what it was before we were born.
So, I noticed I’ve damn near written a novel. And it might be time for me to get to work. If you’re reading this sister, I love you and I’m happy for you. Please don’t be mad at my opinions of you pre-atheism. And I’m sorry for any inconsistencies. I’m happy you are the way you are now.