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Trading faith for facts

By RJ ~

When I try to explain to others how deeply indoctrinated I was in the Christian faith as a child, I usually say my family was about a half step below Jesus Camp. There was no speaking in tongues or mass groups of crying children, but just about everything else depicted in the movie was something I experienced at least some part of. I went to a Christian youth camp during the summer. I was homeschooled for 7th and 8th grade because my parents didn't want me learning about evolution (we were eventually sent back to public school as they both needed to work). I went to 2-3 services a week, occasionally even four once I hit my teenage years (two services on Sunday, prayer service on Wednesday, youth group on Thursday). All of the phrases used in that documentary were something I heard at one point or another. That we needed to be warriors for Christ. That our nation was steeped in sin and we were in the end times (and that every national event that went against what my church thought was right, from elections to court cases to whatever, was another sign that Christ's return was imminent). That everything worldly was Satan tempting us away from God. I didn't go to a movie from between the ages of 10 and 17. I wasn't allowed to go to school dances. We prayed before every meal and, at least for a while, got up every morning at like 6 AM so we could have a family devotional before the day started.

Even though I believed, or tried to believe, wholeheartedly, I always fell short of the ideal, and this filled me with tremendous guilt. I can't tell you how many nights I prayed to be saved, fearing that I hadn't really meant it before and that if I died the next day, I'd go to hell. Once I hit my teenaged years, I spent just as many nights fervently praying for a husband quickly, because as a Christian woman, my role in life was to have children and be a mom and a wife. I promised every summer at camp to be a proud disciple of Christ, to carry my Bible to school and tell my friends about how they could be saved.

Yet something, something always held me back. I like to think now that some rational part of me, even then, knew that most, if not all, of the things I was being taught didn't really add up. I remember thinking all the usual things - if God is all powerful, why does he allow bad things to happen? If he loves us, why did he create us knowing that most of us would go to hell? - but I had been taught since I was old enough to remember that Jesus was our savior and you believed in him and followed the Bible or you went to hell when you died, and I did not want to go to hell when I died. Yet I never carried my Bible to school, or preached to my friends. Instead I lay awake terrified, praying to be saved, all the while wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn't just BELIEVE.

I think two things really started me down the path to deconversion. One is my intelligence. I don't say this to be boastful, but I am academically gifted, and my parents did actively encourage me to do well in school and go to college (and I also do not blame them for how I was raised, they were raised the same way and were only doing what they thought was best. They were, and my mom still is, very loving and accepting parents.) While the school I attended had a religious history (Catholic, oddly, which is a bit heretical to a fundamentalist Christian but hey, full scholarship so my parents were thrilled and I didn't really care, for some reason I thought Catholicism was exotic or something), it was a secular university. While there I was of course exposed to people from many other different walks of life, with different ideas of right and wrong and religion and life and just everything. My best friend was a bisexual Celtic priestess, FFS. Somehow I failed to really pick up on the hatred aspect of my upbringing, my inherent curiosity and, I like to think, niceness overroad my aversion to talking to such despicable sinners. And with meeting and talking to all kinds of new people, the beginning of an idea began to form - other people believe other things, and there are other ways to live than the way I was raised.

The second thing that I think helped make it easier to deconvert would seem, on the surface, to not be that ideal. I was an incredibly awkward teenager and young adult. I did not make friends easily, and as a side effect, I also did not really date until I was well into my 20s. While it was certainly painful at the time to be so nerdy and awkward and sometimes lonely (and also, honestly, horny as hell with no real outlet), I think that if I had been conventionally friendly and attractive and easily found a boyfriend within my hometown church area, it would have been incredibly easy to stay indoctrinated in that mentality. Because I would have definitely wanted to get married as soon as possible just to have sex - I firmly believe this is one of the primary reasons Christianity is so sexphobic, so that they can get their offspring married and tied to church and family while they are still young and immature. But I digress.

So I was very bright but socially awkward. As I was exposed to more new ideas in college and afterwards, I found it harder and harder to cling to "truths" that, in the face of reality, were clearly NOT true. The earth is not 6000 years old and gay people are just people and if sex is so sinful they why give everyone a sex drive and goddamn it none of this shit actually makes any SENSE any more.

I think two things really started me down the path to deconversion. One is my intelligence. It was a gradual process. I don't recall a specific time where something dawned on me and I said, oh right, everything was a lie and now I see. I gradually shed certain aspects of my faith while still considering myself a(n extremely lapsed) Christian. Like, I still believe in God, but I don't believe he hates gay people or is going to send me to hell if I have sex or actually cares about who wins this football game. God was sort of like a distant relative you only thought about once in a while, like on major holidays, a vaguely paternalistic entity that was out there but had no real bearing on my day to day life (which eventually included a tour in the military and a doctoral degree, exposing me to even more radical sinful outside opinions and ideas and FACTS).

Within the past two years, I've shed even that remnant of my upbringing. I now identify as an atheist and try to find the truth and evidence in things, not accept them on faith. I spend a lot of my time reading and listening to science and skepticism type news and hope to expand my knowledge in some of the hard sciences (for my own benefit, not in any type of formal schooling, I think I have enough student loan debt kthx) so I can better understand and appreciate how very awesome and unique and yet insignificant my life and this planet really are.

I think what surprised me the most about losing my faith is that I actually found it to be very peaceful. Particularly the idea, now, of death; while this terrified me as a believer, my fear that my faith was never strong enough to deliver me safely from hell, my current belief that we all just cease is far more comforting. And it makes things so much richer and more immediate now. We only get this one life (I believe), so why not make the most of it? Why not enjoy yourself and help others enjoy themselves and waste so much time worrying about what others do or don't believe happens after death, or what they do in the privacy of their homes?

I really hope humanity as a whole is coming out of our childhood, a time where we can stop clinging to the security blanket of fairy tales to keep the terrors of the unknown at bay.

Anyway that's my story.