I still feel a little naughty about letting anyone else know that I'm in the atheist camp.  My parents, sister, brother-in-law, grandmothers, etc. are all evangelical Christians, and I know it would break their hearts to know that I've gone the opposite direction.  I'm still protecting my family from knowing too much about me (long story), but I know the truth will eventually come out.

And when they ask me why?  When they ask how I could leave the faith they so carefully taught me?

Because I just can't reconcile the teachings anymore.  Just one example: if the Adam and Eve story is real, how could God condemn these (supposedly) beloved creations for disobedience when they didn't understand at the time that what they were doing was wrong?  They didn't know good and evil until after they ate the fruit, right?  They were innocence itself when the deed was done.  But nope!  No forgiveness!  (I see now that what makes more sense about the Adam and Eve story is that it's actually the ancient Hebrews trying to explain why the world is the way it is.)

But then if there is no literal Adam and Eve story, then there is no reason given for why man is "fallen."  And if man is not "fallen", then there is no reason for the crucifixion.  All the issues like this...the numbers just don't add up anymore. 

For most of my life, I've been told to "surrender my life to Christ","do the will of God", "fulfill God's purpose","let God do what he wants with your life."  Well, I've been trying to do all that since I was a child, and it almost made me neurotic.  Part of the problem was the overbearing cult of a church that we belonged to, but the cult was made possible by the religion.

At eleven years old, I was frantically trying to straighten the rugs in the house, wash my hands a dozen times a day (and not use any hand lotion though they were chapped red raw), and literally pray all night long because the thought would enter my head, then I'd think "I promise I'll do it" (kind of like when someone tells you not to think of an elephant and so you immediately do) and then of course I had to keep my promise to God.  I was contracting OCD through my desire to please God.

For a month or so, again, as a child, I fasted two meals every Saturday because the pastor of the church had asked for that committment.  I kept this pact, even the Saturday that my family went for a picnic at the park.  I sat and watched everyone eat their sandwiches instead.

Why were my parents so tone deaf about all of this, you might ask?  Because my parents were just as much victims of the church's teachings as I was.  I learned early in my life that if I wasn't comfortable with something that went on at church, that I was the problem and I had to deal with it.

Being homeschooled since the sixth grade didn't help.  In fact, all of the insanity with the rug-straightening didn't start until we began homeschooling.  So from sixth grade until high school graduation, I had no reality check, next to no contact with my peers, nothing but parents, church, parents, church. 

I became a very introverted teenager as I fought with loneliness and depression, and still tried to be a good Christian.  I wanted companionship, I wanted a boyfriend, I wanted to have sex, but I knew none of that was even possible.  There was zero contact with boys during my teenage years (unless you count the presence of one older boy at the same homeschooling support group we attended once a month.) I couldn't see any hope on the horizon.  Hell, I couldn't even see a horizon.

I graduated high school and went to college, but didn't live on campus because it would have been too hard to get back and forth to church.  My parents didn't command this.  I just knew that this was the way things were.  The college was primarily for girls, so again, next to no contact with guys was SOP for those years.  However, I took a philosophy class and things began to change just a bit.  My brain reacted to the new ideas and the rigorous argumentation style like a thirsty plant to beautiful, clear water.  The process had begun, but I really didn't know it just yet.

I continued to struggle with the increasing feeling that I lived a dual life.  I didn't really belong in church anymore because that thirsty brain of mine had awakened and was asking questions.  But I didn't feel I belonged "in the world" either because I still held onto the fundamental beliefs of my faith.  I graduated college, got my first job, and gained a bit more independence.

I continued to move further and further away from faith as reality became more real.  I was having more trouble reconciling the teachings of the faith with real life and I found myself pulling the telescope back to more and more basic beliefs.  When I met the man that would become my husband, I was down to two beliefs: God exists and God loves me.

When I fell in love with my future husband, he was not a believer, but I still considered myself to be one.  There was the trepidation about "yoking" myself to him when we talked about getting married, but I had never felt so happy, safe, and cared-for as I did with him.  So I took the plunge, realizing that I'd rather be happy with a sinner than miserable on my own.  Another important step was taken in breaking the chains.

My husband had never followed any faith or adopted any religious beliefs, but was curious about it all.  So we began researching and reading together.  The game-changer?  Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus."  I thought, "Well, if there's nothing true in here, then no harm done in reading it.  But if there is something true, then I need to know."  So I read the book.  And, for the first time, I saw that the Bible wasn't infallible.  And that changed EVERYTHING.

Soon I was questioning everything, even the things I'd been afraid to touch before.  ("Is God really good?  What is up with the Old Testament / New Testament bipolar God stories?  Who was Jesus really?")

And, it slowly became clear that trying to follow the inscrutable edicts of an unseen, unheard being is a recipe for insanity.  That the religious "experiences" I'd had were all products of suggestion from authority figures, mixed with my own intense emotion, and pressure from the group.  That it made no sense to attempt to live by rules that weren't rules (they're grace!).

Husband has declared himself an atheist to my sister and brother-in-law already.  I'm not quite ready to make that leap with my family

However, here it is safer.  So I declare now that my life is my own, my purpose is what I make it, and I wasn't "fallen" until someone else told me I was and then offered me the antidote to the sickness I didn't have.  I am emotionally worn out, but my mind is finally out of the cage.

So it's been a long time coming.  But here I am.

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Comment by Kairan Nierde on February 1, 2012 at 1:31am

It's striking the extent to which your parents went to control your experience of the world.  I'm glad you have gotten out of that construct.


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