One year ago I moved into my first apartment all by myself. Family collected to help haul my belongings from my sister’s house, but once everything was efficiently dumped into respective locations throughout the apartment, I found myself standing there alone in a furnished but undecorated living room. Just a few weeks later, this room–my only territory–held the conversation that shifted me away from what I had been up to that time, a person defined essentially by my dependence: offspring, student, congregant…just a small, little someone molded by nature and nurture.
A few months prior, I’d experienced my a-ha moment sitting on a borrowed bed at my evangelical sister’s house. I sat up in the dim room and gazed outside when I heard the usual midnight train blowing by half a mile away like a made for TV moment when my old, crippled beliefs could hop on the train and leave me to progress in my coming of age tale. I felt washed but weary. The fight was over, and I had to pat myself down to make sure everything was still functioning right. I was no longer a Christian. So what was I?
Brief thoughts of Jekyll and Hyde, then the Monster and Frankenstein crossed my mind in realizing that who I was in that moment appeared antithetical to my former assumptions about myself. I felt like I was meeting a new person who seemed remarkably more at ease with herself than I had been for the past four years. The experience of losing my faith matched the effective symptoms of a Christian salvation. I couldn’t believe that what I had actually needed all along was to abandon the answers in order to gain freedom. Only 15 minutes after I felt this flood of relief, I called my two former roommates who were both Christians and told them what I had just experienced. I knew they’d be upset, but I had to explain to them what was really going on the last several months they were living with that depressed, lifeless lump that I was.
I haven’t talked to either of these friends since 2011.
That few months later, when my mind was a blur in anticipation of the dreaded “coming out” with my parents, I sent my mom up to my room to hang up curtains while I sat with my dad in my living room. We sat across from one another, and I gave him the more comfortable seat. Physical comfort wasn’t going to cushion the bomb I was about to drop on him, but it was all I could do to still feel like a good daughter.
“So, tell me what’s been going on?” My dad knew I’d been questioning things for a while. We share a thirst for knowledge, and I tip my hat to him for the natural height of my intellect. He was the easy parent to talk to. He gets me, and he would get what I was about to say.
“I just don’t think that I believe anymore. After several months of confusion, I don’t think I have answers. I’m skeptical.” Keep it short, simple.
As expected, he offered a calm response, “Well, what exactly are you skeptical of? What was your thought process through this?”
These were questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. I’d only just been through this and still didn’t know what happened to me.
“Well, a lot of it seems sketchy to me–the story about Jesus and how we have no way of actually testing or verifying anything in Scripture.”
Dad sat silent for a few moments and then feebly claimed that there are actually very good resources for understanding these things. I told him I just can’t believe it. There were no good answers for him at this point. None of it made sense to me, and I didn’t feel the need to force answers.
I decided to end the conversation quickly with, “I’m just skeptical. That’s all. I just don’t know what I believe, but I know I don’t believe in what is written in the Bible.”
Mom made her way downstairs at this point and sat down on the couch next to dad. She looked at me, braced herself, and asked what was going on. Immediately, I disintegrated into a mess of tears.
“I can’t tell you. You’ll just get angry at me, and I don’t want you to be mad at me. Dad can tell you.”
Dad carefully tried to convey the message I’d given him, and I filled in the holes when necessary. Mom watched him with a furrowed brow but refused to look in my direction the whole time. By the time he finished, she looked at me, her eyes loaded cannons.
“I hope that something really awful happens in your life that forces you on your knees before the Lord. He will cause you to submit, even if those means are necessary.”
To this day, there has never been a more poignant moment when I knew I had left a toxic system. Up until this point, I didn’t think Christianity was bad. I just didn’t think it was right. This was my introduction to the true face of evangelical Christianity and its twisted conceptions of love, truth and grace. From that moment on, I encountered the putrid stench of Christian apologetics from the “enemy’s” side. I heard the gay bashing. I saw the martyr complex. I wept at it all, and I hated that this culture bore me into the world. I hated that I could still be that person, and I hated that I have to tolerate those people because they are still my family and best friends.
And so my disdain for Christianity kicked off at the same time as the Christmas season. Christmas was on a Sunday, and I somewhat nervously agreed to go to church with my family. I sat there in the front row during the sermon, feeling all stares sinking into the back of my head from fellow congregants I’d known since I was in elementary school. Everyone knew. I was on the prayer list. The sermon preached that day was not in honor of Christ’s birth. The sermon was meant as a last ditch effort for my soul. However, I was and am too far gone. After the sermon, I received a lot of hugs from people who normally don’t talk to me. It was like attending my own funeral.
Later that evening, I sat alone up in the room where young Christian me grew up. I felt very much like I was still me in that room, and yet my beliefs were so different. I wondered how much, then, they truly defined me. After having listened to Christmas hymns incessantly for days, I got on my laptop and searched for “The Atheist Christmas Carol” on YouTube. I played it over and over and let it heal my morning and that conversation in the living room and those years I spent in doubting turmoil before losing my faith. I played it until I felt so comforted by my aloneness that I was sure I’d never find a greater joy than myself.
What does it mean to me when my president acknowledges and respects my lack of belief in God? What does it mean to me when my president supports and wants to legalize my potential marriage to a woman?
At face value, those things mean a lot, but when I really sit on those questions for a while I start to wonder when acknowledgement can overcome the dissension. No matter how much one man respects what I believe and how I love, one man can’t assure me that I’ll gain what I feel like I deserve.
I sat reading tweets by my former pastor tonight and glanced over social pages of Christians from my past. They’ve all but forgotten who I am at this point. They shout words that would be daggers to my heart if I truly cared about their opinions anymore. According to them, their words are Truth–even further–Truth in love. These people don’t know love. That’s not to say that I do, but after having set up camp on both sides of this fence, I think I have a little better perspective.
I’m not sure how much faith I have in Obama’s administration. I like that he wants equality. That’s what I want, too. But I get antsy in waiting and discouraged by the power of religious indoctrination to completely skew a person’s understanding of love. I want a better future, and I want to help build it. But when do our “HOPE” and “CHANGE” banners peel from their 2D form and take a three-dimensional lead into our future? What is this world we live in that makes people on all sides look at others as though their ideas are poison?
Though I’m no longer a conservative Christian, I don’t like feeling like I’m now at the other extreme. I didn’t leave so that I could fight. I left so that I could figure out who I am and what is important to me. With that comes a lot of expectations still. How dare I not vote in this election. How dare I post opinions on the internet that upset people. How dare I be passive about anything that should be important to me. I’m sorry, everyone, but I am perpetually shellshocked. I’m too stunned by my empathy for all sides to really charge forth with my pitchfork. For all my inactive apathy and for all my contradictory opinions, the truth is that it’s all too much. And I care too much about everyone. I wish things could all work out the best for everyone, but I don’t actually believe that’s an option.