Atheist Christmas

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.


8 Comments on “Atheist Christmas”

  1. theangrytiki says:

    Loved this, Kate. Beautifully written. That moment with your mom broke my heart, though it was a real awakening. Thanks for sharing. xoxo

    • Kate says:

      Thanks, Simone. I don’t think my mom even remembers saying that. I’ll always remember it, but I’ll never confront her about it. Her anger was understandable, though her words weren’t really acceptable.

  2. Nelson says:

    That’s so different from what the typical 20 something in western NC southern baptist churches go through. We do this: good clean sunday school kid goes in the navy or marine corps and comes back 4 years later, smoking cigarettes, drinking, tattoo, atheist. (me and my sister) I knew very few 20 something kids who were devout church goers. Once they graduated from high school and went to college or elsewhere, that was it for sunday school and regular church attendance. Now years later, I don’t drink or smoke anymore and had the usmc tattoo removed by laser 14 years ago, and I’m still an agnostic. But I know another person in Minnesota who was part of a powerfully indoctrinating evangelical christian sect who underwent an internal revolution and became an atheist.

    • Kate says:

      We all have our unique paths to wherever. It’s so fascinating for me to learn all the different stories now and how different the religious culture is in different countries, states and towns. Some people change beliefs in a very fluid manner, while it can be rather abrupt for others (like myself). I’m interested in the psychology behind it all.

  3. That aloneness you wrote about, it’s a power or the feeling of a power. We are here alone and none can comfort us if we are not free to feel it. I AM. This is the start. When you become I AM, there is nothing left that you need, only things that you want. Congratulations.

  4. M. Rodriguez says:

    everybody de-conversion expierence is different, and it seems you handled yours the best way possible.

    Its funny that mention an atheist Christmas, because in my fundamentalism, I was against the traditional Christmas tree because of Jeremiah 10:1-5. Now I am no longer a believer, I feel free to truley celebrate in all of christmas and all its tradition.

  5. Nelson says:

    “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.”

    Holy sh!t that’s how old white southern baptists talk in western NC. Where the hell do they go to learn to talk like that? It’s not the public school system. It’s terrifying.

  6. your pal tom from facebook says:

    i am too lazy to hit shift, so this is all lower case.

    just read this…. daaaaaaaaaaaaaaang. that was a horrible thing your mum said… *sigh* – but great story about your deconversion. it would be interesting to hear about if there was a particular thing that just didn’t make sense that pushed you into that moment where religion jumped the shark.

    my story is different. i was a believer, but not evangelical, ’til college, constantly seeking god. however, the whole time i had this nagging feeling that there was nothing there because i had never had a prayer answered, at least not an important one. (ever notice people don’t pray much for the impossible to happen?)

    near the end of my college career i read bertrand russell’s “why i am not a christian” and i was just completely wowed. it was the first time i had read, in print, something concerning religion that made any god damned sense.

    thus began the long existential struggle with regard to religion.. how to handle friends, family. it disappointed my mom, who wondered where she went wrong. i had to assure her she did nothing wrong. my sisters didn’t seem to care one way or the other. only a tiny handful of friends were judgmental, but they were judgmental in general anyway.

    my observation is that since you’re still pretty young, like i was when my conversion happened, that by the time you’re 30, most of your friends will be just fine with it, and those that are judgmental will either have faded away or will have come around.

    i would bet that those who convert late have a worse time.

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