I grew up in a relatively quiet town in the North East. Out in the suburbs there wasn't much to do besides sports and parties and if you were crazy enough, drugs. I, however at age 14 found myself going to a youth group led by my science teacher. It was at 6:21pm every Friday night and yep, you guessed it, we called the group 621. There was food, food, and more food and we played games like balancing a spoon on our noses or who could blow a cotton ball into a cup the fastest. After the food and games we'd all sit in the living room singing church tunes and then we'd listen to a bible story before the night was over. It was all so wholesome and safe and fun. It was always described as a relaxed environment. "No rules, just have fun!" kids would say.
I was pretty geeky at the time. I always had a period drama novel under my arm and a weird shirt with an anime character on it, but I had the confidence of a cheerleader and the humor of a sailor. 621 was the perfect venue for weird youngsters to unite, so it was somewhat of an escape for me. I made friends with two boys that attended, B and Z. Z and I became very close friends over the next several years, but we got closer after we both left 621 for good. To me, the group changed over time and became more religious and less about fun. After leaving, Z and I spent a summer doing everything together. But even after strong friendship bonds were made, sophomore year proved to be the end of it. I was still my quirky self but Z had cut his hair, started lifting weights and dressing to fit in. It wasn't cool anymore to hang out with types like me and with so many girls now interested, there was no room for an actual girl-friend; I assumed that to be his reason for disappearing. Our friendship was then put on the back burner. I decided to take religion seriously around age 17. In that short time I became very involved in my church and even worked there full time. I put off plans for school after being influenced that college was pointless and for the worldly. Needless to say I realized what I had gotten myself into and just after my high school graduation I took the steps to leave that particular church. Z and I didn't speak again until my birthday of Senior year. He apologized for the lack of contact and the meanie he had been. He wanted to make things different. We went out a few times for food but it wasn't anything like when we were younger.
As I approached 19 I had completely left Christianity and I was so excited to tell him my story. I had gone over one night and played around with his guitar while he painted. It was as if nothing had changed. I expected to talk about everything wrong with my experience with church but instead, he made subtle hints that he had found a youth group and thought I should join. I left with a painting and a broken friendship because I knew he would never be the friend from before. I knew he was gearing up to ride down the slippery slope of Christianity that I had just limped away from, and if he had any sense he would come to the same conclusion I did: you have to get out. We talked again but only by phone. I could tell my lack of belief frightened him and his all of a sudden salvation disappointed me. I remember him asking me why I didn't believe. Years of our friendship played in my head and I thought of all the times we'd been together and never talked about religion, but all of a sudden it was the topic of discussion. I began to explain myself, but was unsure of what I should and shouldn't say. I had just gotten my friend back after years of no contact for Pete's sake. I didn't want to lose it all over a few sentences, so I held back. I told him I didn't want to talk about it with him but he insisted. He asked me questions like, "Can you disprove the resurrection?"
In my heart the conversation was already over. I knew I'd lost him to the disease of religion. He took my lack of words as defeat. I thought, "There goes another one, lost to the medieval superstitions that live on, ever potent." Okay, well maybe not something that poetic, but close. I answered indifferently, saying, "While I can't disprove the resurrection, it can't be proved. I won't tell you you're wrong, Z. All I want to tell you is to be careful! They'll use you, you know. They will literally work you and your pocket like a pyramid scheme. They did it to me because they saw something in me and it's in you too. They will use you, I can almost promise it."
He told me he was instructed on how to speak with nonbelievers. He recited his story of salvation and how he was such a screw up and a piece of shit before he found god. He said god saved him from himself and he'd be in a ditch without him.
"Age old line," I thought. I felt sick. I remembered saying things like that to my friends when I had just entered into Christianity. I remembered how blind I was and punch drunk with the fairytale of it all, and listening to Z do it was like looking into some horrifically enchanted mirror.
I suppose as an ex-Christian, watching someone be dragged into religion is like watching a loved one run towards a cliff. You try to stop them and even grab their arm, but you are a ghost now. You are dead to religion and now dead to that person. You know what's over the cliff, you know the other side because you are the other side. No matter what you say, they just can't hear you, they don't want to hear you. You are avoided like the plague for fear of corrupting their good manners with your evil. You just don't exist in their world anymore, and in my opinion, this is the actual hell, not the fire pit described in the Bible.
The conversation was already over. I knew I'd lost him to the disease of religion.I wanted to say that the resurrection is not my burden of proof. I'm not the one who believes it, so I didn't need to disprove it, that was his job. And I wanted to tell him that he was never a screw up to me. He was perfect. He was just the way any teenager usually is: clueless, unsure of themselves and still ignorant to the world. I wanted to ask him why he would love a god that tells him he's worthless and a piece of shit, but somehow unconditionally loved, simultaneously. Why would he love a god that would allow such contradicting beliefs? I wanted to ask if he realized how much I missed the old Z and hearing him glorify this religion and push me away was like watching him nose dive off a cliff. These were questions that were never asked and of course, never answered.
Instead I said goodbye and that I didn't think we'd see each other again and it was okay. That was it. I decided then, I don't care about Z's answers. I don't care if he's afraid of death or being worthless or going to hell. Deep down I know that Z is going to live out his life and do many things. He will likely grow old with his family, but in the end, we'll both end up in the same place. We all face the inevitable, and identical finale of death. It's not accompanied by angels or chariots, it's just the end. The final goodbye. I can't waste the time I have trying to distort that or make it seem less true. It's not fun but it's there. I don't sleep at night thinking that Z will go to some fiery hell for not agreeing with me. I sleep at night because I know it's okay for him to believe whatever he wants. I can sleep knowing he has a roof over his head, a loving family and food to eat. Reality helps me sleep, not fairytales or damning someone to the worst place I can imagine because I didn't get my way. As a Christian I remember getting so upset when someone didn't agree with me because I figured they'd go to hell. But now, as an Atheist, for the first time I can look at people's choices at face value and say, "So be it."
There's no fire inside of me that wishes Z would wake up. I don't want to shove a bunch of pamphlets in his face and beg him to just hear me out one morning a week. I am okay with him rejecting my reality because in the end it's just that: my reality. I have nothing to lose. My religion, my treasure, my salvation is all right here, right now. It's my friends and my family, the trees outside, the people I pass going to work. They are all complex and very different from me. I may influence them but I sure as hell can't change them and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am content with the blunt reality Atheism brings. There are no cliffs when you choose to see things for what they are: outside of your control. I am no longer the 14 year old girl in need of a good story. I do not need a fairy tale. All good things have their final moments, too. I accept it. I embrace it. And now I live it. The end.